Tutorials on Screening
- The Journal of Clinical Epidemiology recognizes the important role that tutorials play in the education of both senior scientists and young researchers. This month, we are publishing an excellent 2-part tutorial discussing the tradeoffs between the benefit and harm of health screening. Dans et al argue in the first of two tutorials that the potential benefits of health screening are easy to understand; however, there is a huge potential for physical and psychological harm that is not well recognized.
- Evidence on the effectiveness of health screening strategies may be direct (i.e., studies on screening vs. no screening) or indirect (i.e., studies that separately evaluate the screening test[s], the confirmatory test, or the treatment). Critical trade-offs in the balance between harm and benefit for many screening strategies mandate that advocates of health screening adhere to the ethical precepts of nonmaleficence, autonomy, confidentiality, and equity. In our first article, we pointed out five prerequisites to justifying a health screening program: (1) the burden of illness should be high, (2) the screening and confirmatory tests should be accurate, (3) early treatment (or prevention) must be more effective than late treatment, (4) the tests and the treatment(s) must be safe, and (5) the cost of the screening strategy must be commensurate with the potential benefit.
- Health screening is defined as the use of a test or a series of tests to detect unrecognized health risks or preclinical disease in apparently healthy populations to permit prevention and timely intervention. A health screening strategy consists of the sequence of a screening test, confirmatory test(s), and finally, treatment(s) for the condition detected. The potential benefits of health screening are easy to understand, but the huge potential for physical and psychological harm is less well recognized.