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Screening for health risks: A social science perspective

By Bob Heyman


Health screening promises to reduce risks to individuals via probabilistic sifting of populations for medical conditions. The categorisation and selection of 'conditions' such as cardiovascular events, dementia and depression for screening itself requires prior interpretive labour which usually remains unexamined. Screening systems can take diverse organisational forms and varying relationships to health status, as when purported disease precursors, for example 'pre-cancerous' polyps, or supposed risk factors, such as high cholesterol themselves, become targets for screening. Screening at best yields small, although not necessarily unworthwhile, net population health gains. It also creates new risks, leaving some individuals worse-off than if they had been left alone. The difficulties associated with attempting to measure small net gains through randomised controlled trials are sometimes underestimated. Despite endemic doubts about its clinical utility, bibliometric analysis of published papers shows that responses to health risks are coming to be increasingly thought about in terms of screening. This shift is superimposed on a strengthening tendency to view health through the lens of risk. It merits further scrutiny as a societal phenomenon

Topics: H1, R1, RA0421
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Year: 2010
OAI identifier:

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