Facts

What is screening?

Screening is a public health service in which the health service invites members of a defined population, who have no symptoms or other reason to believe they are unwell to come forward and be tested for the presence of a disease.

Screening populations for disease is fundamentally, philosophically and functionally different from detecting disease in a patient and has important ethical differences from everyday clinical practice.

Screening can:

  • save lives;
  • reduce the risk of developing a disease;
  • reduce the risk of complications;
  • enable more effective and timely treatment; and
  • improve quality of life.

The following table shows the key differences between health screening and clinical practice within healthcare services:

 Clinical practicePopulation screening
Who Initiates?PatientHealth service
Role of the subjectSick personNormal person
Role of the servicePassive, RespondingActive, Searching
Ideal goalTo restore health to a sick personTo detect disease in a “healthy” person
Minimum goalNot to make sick person worseNot to make healthy person sick