Screening tests in General Practice. – Going beyond the obvious.
Modern general practitioners should offer more than reactive medicine. That is, responding not only to problems that are brought to them but looking at the bigger long term picture as well.
A large part of the service we offer involves diagnosing and treating acute short term illness like infections, and monitoring chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension and asthma. However your family doctor is ideally placed to screen for potential future illness and to offer preventative measures such as vaccinations and lifestyle modification to prevent these illnesses and to minimise their impact.
Screening tests are performed on healthy people to assess their likelihood of having a disease. In this way we hope to be able to treat patients in the early stages, preventing long term complications and hopefully achieving better outcomes.
It is important to remember the difference between screening tests and diagnostic tests. The screening test are done in well individuals who may be at risk for an illness, and point out to us who should be subject to further tests to make a positive diagnosis of a disease. For example a urine dipstick may pick up sugar in the urine; however the diagnostic test for diabetes is a raised blood glucose level.
Many people with illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure and most cancers, will have no symptoms in the early stages and may only become aware of the illness when complications occur. Diagnosing these problems at an early stage and treating them appropriately will often result in far better outcomes.
The criteria for suitable screening tests in a general practice setting include:
- The illness should be sufficiently common to warrant screening tests. The risk assessment includes the individual’s life style, personal medical history and family history.
- The test should have high sensitivity, i.e. giving us the confidence that a patient with a negative test is unlikely to have the disease.
- The test should have high specificity, i.e. making it less likely that a patient without the disease will have a positive test.
- The test needs to be easy to administer, safe and acceptable to the patient.
- Appropriate follow up and care should be available in the case of a positive result.
- In modern day healthcare, cost is also an important factor.
The screening tests we offer at Brampton include:
- Weight and height as a BMI index for obesity
- High Blood Pressure screening
- Diabetes screening (Urine and Blood test)
- Blood cholesterol test
- Screening for risk of heart disease (Stress ECG and combined risk assessment)
- Cervical cancer (Pap smears)
- Breast cancer screen (Breast examinations and referral for Mammograms)
- Osteoporosis screen (Referral for bone density test)
- Colon cancer screen (Stool test and referral for colonoscopy)
- Skin check for early skin cancers
Additionally young children need to be screened for developmental problems, hearing and vision problems. Many of these tests can be arranged through our practice.