Definition of Screening
Screening is a process of identifying apparently healthy people who may be at increased risk of a disease or condition. They can then be offered information, further tests and appropriate treatment to reduce their risk and/or any complications arising from the disease or condition.
Limitations of Screening
Screening has important ethical differences from clinical practice as the health service is targeting apparently healthy people, offering to help individuals to make better informed choices about their health. However, there are risks involved and it is important that people have realistic expectations of what a screening programme can deliver.
Whilst screening has the potential to save lives or improve quality of life through early diagnosis of serious conditions, it is not a fool-proof process. Screening can reduce the risk of developing a condition or its complications but it cannot offer a guarantee of protection. In any screening programme, there is a minimum of false positive results (wrongly reported as having the condition) and false negative results (wrongly reported as not having the condition). The UK NSC (United Kingdom National Screening Committee) is increasingly presenting screening as risk reduction to emphasise this point.