Screening programmes enable health conditions to be identified so that effective interventions can be offered. The aim of this review was to determine: (1) the effectiveness of children's vision screening programmes; (2) at what age children should attend vision screening; and (3) what form vision screening programmes should take to be most effective. A literature review on the effectiveness of vision screening programmes in children aged 0-16 years was undertaken. Eligible studies/reviews were identified through clinical databases, hand searches and consultation with expert reviewers. The methodological quality of papers was rated using National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines. Screening of children 18 months to 5 years, and subsequent early treatment, led to improved visual outcomes. The benefit was primarily through treatment of amblyopia, with improved visual acuity of the amblyopic eye. However, the overall quality of the evidence was low. The implication of improved visual acuity (e.g. any potential impact on quality of life) was not considered. Without consideration of 'quality of life' values, such as loss of vision in one eye or possibility of future bilateral vision loss, the cost-effectiveness of screening is questionable. Screening and treating children with uncorrected refractive error can improve educational outcomes. Evidence suggested that screening occur in the preschool years. Orthoptists were favoured as screening personnel; however, nurses could achieve high sensitivity and specificity with appropriate training. Further research is required to assess the effectiveness of neonatal screening. Most studies suggested that children's vision screening was beneficial, although programme components varied widely (e.g. tests used, screening personnel and age at testing). Research is required to clearly define any improvements to quality of life and any related economic benefits resulting from childhood vision screening. The evidence could be used to guide optimization of existing programmes.
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.