Guidelines for preventive activities in general practice

Screening, case finding and prevention principles

Benefits and harms of preventive health activities

      1. Benefits and harms of preventive health activities

Benefits and harms of preventive health activities 

There is evidence that some preventive activities are not effective and may even be harmful. Determining whether a preventive activity is beneficial, harmful or of indeterminate effect (ie there is not enough evidence on which to base a decision) requires a consistent, unbiased, evidence-based approach. Screening of asymptomatic patients may lead to overdiagnosis, causing needless anxiety, appointments, tests, drugs and even operations, and may leave the patient less healthy. Therefore, it is crucial that evidence clearly demonstrates that the benefits outweigh those harms for each preventive activity.

Further reading

For further information on the stages of prevention and the social determinants of health and illness: Putting prevention into practice | Guidelines for the implementation of prevention in the general practice setting (Green Book)
For further information on reducing patient harms and avoiding low-value care: First do no harm: A guide to choosing wisely in general practice

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Related documents

  Lifecycle-chart.pdf (PDF 0.12 MB)