To Screen or Not To Screen

Screening procedure explanations tailored to individual patients help inform choices

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Nobody should be in the dark when it comes to making healthcare decisions. But knowing the risks involved with certain tests may not change a person’s desire to go ahead and screen for disease.

A recent review looked at multiple studies in which healthcare professionals gave information tailored to individual patients about the risks involved with a screening test.

The results of the study showed that patients given personalized risk information were better informed about the risks involved with the screening test.

But being more informed did not necessarily make the patient more or less likely to go through with screening.

"Talk to your doctor about any screening test risks."

Adrian GK Edwards, PhD, from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine in Wales, UK, led an investigation into patient choices after being informed of screening procedure risks.

“Screening is generally seen as an effective and safe method to prevent diseases, but there are risks and disadvantages with the procedures involved. It is important for the person undergoing screening to know about the risks of the disease and also how this is relevant to him or her,” said the authors.

For the study, multiple medical research databases were searched from 1985 to 2012 for studies that involved a “personalized risk communication element.”

Personalized risk communication refers to conversations between a healthcare professional and a patient about the risks involved with certain screening procedures specific to that patient. Personalized risk communication can help a patient make an informed decision about having or not having a screening procedure.

For the sake of this study, screening procedures referred to a process more invasive than simply drawing blood or having an x-ray. Screenings for things like breast, colorectal and cervical cancer can be invasive and uncomfortable.

A total of 41 studies including 28,700 people were reviewed. Three of the studies measured how specific risk communication from a healthcare professional influenced a patient’s decision to have a screening procedure.

In those three studies, 45 percent of patients who received personalized risk information made informed choices to go ahead with screening, compared to 20 percent of patients who received generic risk information.

Researchers reviewed other studies that measured how well patients understood the risks involved with a screening procedure after personalized or generalized risks were talked about with a healthcare professional.

The authors concluded that personalized risk communication made the patients more informed about the risks involved with a screening procedure. However, the authors found little data to support that the personalized risk communications made any changes in the patients’ decisions about whether or not to go through with the screening procedure.

This study was published in February in The Cochrane Library.

Cochrane Health Promotion and Public Health Field, the UK Department of Health and Cardiff University provided funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were reported. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 6, 2013
Last Updated:
March 7, 2013