U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

Talk More, Test Less, Panel Urges Health Providers

Disease Prevention Experts Call for More Counseling, Better Targeted Screening

A task force of prominent preventive health specialists today recommended that doctors and nurses offer more frequent patient counseling on personal health and safety habits, significantly change the use of some screening tests, and ensure that several newer immunizations are routinely provided.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel first convened in 1984 as an initiative of the U.S. Public Health Service, issued the first revision of its widely used 1989 guide to effective disease prevention and health promotion, based on a careful review of scientific evidence.

Many of the recommended changes in the 1995 Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, 2nd Edition reflect new evidence about important health benefits of selected preventive services. Other changes reflect a more critical look at the balance of harms and benefits of screening tests now in wide use. The report also reaffirms many of the disease and injury prevention practices recommended in 1989.

In accepting the report from the Task Force, Philip R. Lee, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health, noted that "Effective disease and injury prevention is our most efficient tool for improving our health status as individuals and as a nation. This report, like its predecessor, moves us further toward prevention that works."

Targeting the Periodic Health Exam

The 10-member Task Force rejected the traditional emphasis on a standardized annual physical examination as an effective tool for improving the health of patients. Instead, they emphasized that the content and the frequency of the periodic health exam need to be tailored to the age, health risks and preferences of each patient. The panel recognized the proven benefits of specific measures such as periodic screening for high blood pressure and cervical cancer, scheduled vaccinations, and counseling about tobacco, alcohol and other lifestyle issues. In contrast, the Task Force found little evidence of important benefits from other tests often included in routine checkups, such as blood tests for diabetes, thyroid diseases or anemia, chest xrays, electrocardiograms and urine tests.

According to the Task Force Chair, Dr. Harold C. Sox, Jr., Chair of Medicine at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, "Our review affirms the effectiveness of a variety of preventive interventions, many of which are underutilized in routine practice. At the same time, other widely used preventive practices, many of which are costly and some of which are even dangerous, show little or no evidence that they improve health. We based our recommendations on the scientific evidence. All too often, the evidence was too weak for us to make a strong recommendation. We need to strengthen the evidence on which our prevention practices rest."

Although none of the recommendations depended on cost, the Task Force noted the considerable cost of the widespread use of many unproven tests and procedures, such as routine electrocardiograms in healthy adults and ultrasound scans in low-risk pregnancies.


The Task Force included specialists in family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and preventive medicine. Over 30 outside experts in medicine, nursing, public health, epidemiology, and health promotion and education also contributed to the project.

The Task Force assessed more than 6,000 studies of over 200 different interventions for more than 70 diseases and conditions. These included 53 screening tests (for cardiovascular disease, cancer, metabolic and nutritional diseases, infectious diseases, vision and hearing disorders, prenatal disorders, congenital disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, mental disorders and substance abuse); 11 counseling topics ranging from promoting seat belt use to preventing tobacco use; immunization against 12 common childhood and adult diseases; and the use of aspirin and postmenopausal hormones to prevent disease.

The Task Force has been a pioneer in rigorously evaluating scientific evidence to decide the merits of prevention measures. Since the publication of the 1989 report, the evidence-based method has become the standard for developing guidelines for medical and nursing practice. Based on this method, the Task Force recommends only those preventive services with demonstrated effectiveness in preventing disease, disability or death.

Principal Findings

The report draws several broad conclusions about effective preventive care:

Specific Recommendations

The following are examples of new or revised recommendations:

To order a printed copy of the Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, 2nd Edition, contact the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, at (202) 5121800; the Stock No. is 017001005258 and the single copy price is $35 (shipping included).

Internet access to the Guide will be available in early 1996 via the National Library of Medicine's HSTAT (Health Services/Technology Assessment Text) database at http://text.nlm.nih.gov/ and the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at http://odphp.osophs.dhhs.gov/pubs/guidecps.

Questions relating to the scientific content of the Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, 2nd Edition should be addressed to Carolyn DiGuiseppi, MD, MPH or David Atkins, MD, MPH at (301) 594-4015.

PHS Contacts: (301) 594-136410 Paula Zeller, ext. 148; Bob Griffin, ext. 169

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