5 things you need to know about health screening. Dr Henry Grundy-Wheeler from The Holly Private Hospital explains
How health screens work
Health screening is nothing new. We have all heard the phrase, ‘prevention is better than cure’, and this is true. Good health screening though, not only has to offer value for money (particularly in the NHS) but significantly it needs to have a high degree of accuracy and not pose unnecessary risk. A good screening test will ideally identify those at future high risk of developing a medical condition, allowing early and preventative intervention.
Common screening programmes
The NHS offers a number of national screening programmes: maternal screening in pregnancy, new-born screening, cervical screening for women aged 25-49 every 3 years and then 5 yearly from 50-64, breast screening for women aged 50-71 and bowel cancer screening to both men and women aged 60-74 every 2 years. Exceptions apply to this list but at the core, the benefits of early identification and intervention reduce the chance of developing significant diseases that in some case can be life threatening.
Symptomless screening explained
Screening medicine differs from symptom led medicine given the absence of particular problems to target. As such they provide a broad general look at an individual’s health. Blood tests specific to organ symptoms are increasingly used in evidenced based algorithms to provide a percentage likelihood of acquiring a disease or suffering a medical event. A widely used example of this would be a commonly used tool called Q Risk. The Q Risk tool uses certain blood test results, physiological markers (blood pressure measurements) and family history to predict the likelihood of suffering a heart event over 10 years. It is routinely done in the NHS in a defined population to determine whether cholesterol lowering medication (statins) should be started. This is a primary preventative measure in combating the development of heart disease. Another common screening tool uses blood tests to assess future Type 2 Diabetes development. There is robust evidence that through early identification of high-risk populations, simple dietary and lifestyle intervention can significantly reduce Type 2 Diabetes development and in some instances reverse the onset completely. These two examples highlight how broad symptomless screening can help in reducing the chances of developing major life changing diseases with early intervention.
General health screens
As people become more aware of their health, so general health screens are becoming more widespread either for personal assurance or required for health insurance when commencing or renewing a policy.
A Health Screen will routinely involve a health questionnaire, interview or discussion with a clinician, physical examination and diagnostic tests. The information gathered by the screening process will then determine whether further targeted tests or treatment is recommended. Often, I will have patients who find the screening result alone provides the awareness that they wanted to make healthier lifestyle choices and become more proactive towards personal health.
Where to get a health screen
General Practitioners are well placed to offer advice surrounding suitability of health screening and this features commonly in NHS Primary Care. The Holly Private Hospital offers a number of bespoke Health Screens for those wishing to understand their future health risks more broadly, be it an occupational requirement or for personal interest and reassurance.
To make an appointment with Dr Grundy-Wheeler or to learn more about the Health Screen’s available at The Holly, call 020 8936 1201.