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Consolidated principles for screening based on a systematic review and consensus process [Research]

BACKGROUND:

In 1968, Wilson and Jungner published 10 principles of screening that often represent the de facto starting point for screening decisions today; 50 years on, are these principles still the right ones? Our objectives were to review published work that presents principles for population-based screening decisions since Wilson and Jungner’s seminal publication, and to conduct a Delphi consensus process to assess the review results.

METHODS:

We conducted a systematic review and modified Delphi consensus process. We searched multiple databases for articles published in English in 1968 or later that were intended to guide population-based screening decisions, described development and modification of principles, and presented principles as a set or list. Identified sets were compared for basic characteristics (e.g., number, categorization), a citation analysis was conducted, and principles were iteratively synthesized and consolidated into categories to assess evolution. Participants in the consensus process assessed the level of agreement with the importance and interpretability of the consolidated screening principles.

RESULTS:

We identified 41 sets and 367 unique principles. Each unique principle was coded to 12 consolidated decision principles that were further categorized as disease/condition, test/intervention or program/system principles. Program or system issues were the focus of 3 of Wilson and Jungner’s 10 principles, but comprised almost half of all unique principles identified in the review. The 12 consolidated principles were assessed through 2 rounds of the consensus process, leading to specific refinements to improve their relevance and interpretability. No gaps or missing principles were identified.

INTERPRETATION:

Wilson and Jungner’s principles are remarkably enduring, but increasingly reflect a truncated version of contemporary thinking on screening that does not fully capture subsequent focus on program or system principles. Ultimately, this review and consensus process provides a comprehensive and iterative modernization of guidance to inform population-based screening decisions.

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