Health Screening

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Health Screening

Excerpt

A health screening test is a medical test or procedure performed on members of an asymptomatic population or population subgroup to assess their likelihood of having a particular disease. We often think of screening for early diagnosis of cancer (such as Pap smears for cervical cancer or colonoscopy for colon cancer), but there are many other screening tests commonly used, for example, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) for congenital hypothyroidism in newborns, cholesterol level for heart disease, urine drug screen for illicit drug use, or blood pressure for hypertension. Some screening tests are applied to a large segment of the population (for instance, all adults older than age 50), while others target a smaller subset of the population (pregnant women). Many screening tests are widely used in the United States. Healthcare providers can agree that early diagnosis of a life-threatening disease, for which there is an effective treatment, is a positive action.

If you’re an adult who visits your primary care healthcare provider regularly, you’re probably used to having your blood pressure checked and having blood drawn to determine your cholesterol levels.

Unfortunately, health screening is complicated. Many articles about screening present a  array of medical economics and biostatistics to make their points and a multitude of credible organizations have offered their own (often differing) screening recommendations. The economic implications of screening are real. Even a single screening test, applied to a large number (millions) of people, can result in billions of dollars of health care expenditure annually. There are legitimate debates about sensitivity and specificity, disease prevalence, predictive values, lead-time bias, screening intervals, and appropriate cutoffs for positive or negative results.

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