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Public Health Rev. 2015 Nov 5;36:8. doi: 10.1186/s40985-015-0012-1. eCollection 2015.

Screening and overdiagnosis: public health implications.

Author information

1
1Division of Chronic Diseases, Institute of social and preventive medicine (IUMSP), Lausanne University Hospital, Lausanne, Switzerland.
2
Observatoire valaisan de la santé (OVS), Sion, Switzerland.

Abstract

Overdiagnosis is the diagnosis of an abnormality that bears no substantial health hazard and no benefit for patients to be aware of. Resulting mainly from the use of increasingly sensitive screening and diagnostic tests, as well as broadened definitions of conditions requiring an intervention, overdiagnosis is a growing but still largely misunderstood public health issue. Fear of missing a diagnosis or of litigation, financial incentives or patient's need of reassurance are further causes of overdiagnosis. The main consequence of overdiagnosis is overtreatment. Treating an overdiagnosed condition bears no benefit but can cause harms and generates costs. Overtreatment also diverts health professionals from caring for those most severely ill. Recognition of overdiagnosis due to screening is challenging since it is rarely identifiable at the individual level and difficult to quantify precisely at the population level. Overdiagnosis exists even for screening of proven efficacy and efficiency. Measures to reduce overdiagnosis due to screening include heightened sensitization of health professionals and patients, active surveillance and deferred treatment until early signs of disease progression and prognosis estimation through biomarkers (including molecular) profiling. Targeted screening and balanced information on its risk and benefits would also help limit overdiagnosis. Research is needed to assess the public health burden and implications of overdiagnosis due to screening activity.

KEYWORDS:

Chronic diseases; Overdiagnosis; Overtreatment; Screening

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