Placing the Power of Prevention in the Hands of Doctors


By Cother Hajat

“Do as I say, not as I do” has long been the mantra of doctors. But newly emerging data from the Discovery Vitality Group strongly suggest that it should be “do as the doctor does.”

The financial health burden is increasing worldwide, especially for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes and cancers. The prevention of chronic disease could bring substantial cost and health benefits.

Discovery has shown such benefits from lifestyle interventions; one study on ~1 million members showed that members who were highly engaged in health promotion programs tackling smoking, exercise and diet had lower costs per patient, fewer hospital admissions, and shorter stays in hospital compared with other Discovery members either less or not engaged in the same programs. Furthermore, a study by The Vitality Group in the US suggests that by reducing risk factors for chronic disease, employers could see average medical costs slashed by over 18% for insured employees.

As the ‘custodian’ of health, the doctor can play a key role in influencing the uptake of other forms of treatment such as lifestyle change. New data presentedat Discovery’s “Doctor Thought Leadership Summit” in South Africa on 12-13 July 2015 showed that smoking rates among patients of Discovery network doctors who are non-smokers are about 10%, compared to 20% among patients of doctors who are current smokers. Similarly for exercise, inactive doctors had more physically inactive patients (~56%) compared with doctors who were highly active (~50%). Vitality Age is a proprietary Discovery measure of health status and factors in lifestyle, blood tests, body weight and blood pressure. The Discovery data showed that patients’ Vitality Age was also positively associated with their doctors’ Vitality Age.

So how can doctors ensure that they are providing the motivation and skills needed by patients to change their behavior? Discovery data suggest that doctors should start by reflecting a healthy image themselves in order to positively influence the patients’ likelihood of achieving a healthy lifestyle. Leading by example, doctors have a particularly unique opportunity to improve patients’ health by embracing sustainable lifestyles as well as by prescribing lifestyle interventions. Increasingly Discovery’s Vitality is innovating ways to incentivize doctors to focus on prevention.


Dr Cother Hajat is Consultant at The Vitality Institute.

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