Reconsidering the criteria for evaluating proposed screening programs: reflections from 4 current and former members of the U.S. Preventive services task force

Epidemiol Rev. 2011:33:20-35. doi: 10.1093/epirev/mxr005. Epub 2011 Jun 10.


In 1968, Wilson and Jungner published 10 "principles" for evaluating screening programs (Public Health Papers No. 34. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization), criteria widely used since then. The 4 authors of this review (all current or former members of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force) have found a different paradigm more useful for evaluating screening programs. This review was written independently of the USPSTF; the authors speak only for themselves and not for the USPSTF. They suggest evaluating screening programs not as a checklist but as a balance between the magnitude of benefits and the magnitude of harms, each estimated from a systematic review of the evidence. To emphasize a focus on health outcomes, the authors suggest reframing the target of screening as an umbrella concept: the "predictor of poor health." Evaluation groups should weigh health benefits and harms to estimate net benefits and then consider whether these net benefits justify the resources required. The final decision about implementation should be made by a democratic process that considers both the panel's evaluation of the evidence and nonevidence factors (e.g., resources available, other priorities, the informed population's preferences). The authors hope these suggestions stimulate further discussion about the optimal way to evaluate proposed screening programs.

MeSH terms

  • Advisory Committees
  • Benchmarking
  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / standards
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / adverse effects
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mass Screening / standards*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Program Development / methods
  • Program Development / standards
  • Program Evaluation / methods
  • Program Evaluation / standards*
  • United States
  • United States Public Health Service* / organization & administration