Health screening is becoming a popular benefit on most health insurance plans but what exactly are health screenings and are they reliable? With many of us becoming more proactive with our health than ever before, health screenings sound like a great idea! We answer a few questions you may have on health screenings.

What is a health screening?

Health screening means running a test on someone who has no symptoms of a disease so it can be picked up earlier, improving the chances of being able to treat or cure the disease.

Are health screenings reliable? 

The reliability of health screening depends on two factors, the accuracy of the test and the pre-test risk of the person being screened.

There are many factors that determine a person's pre-test risk, such as their age, gender, family, lifestyle, medical history, occupation and other factors.

Should you be screened?

Making the decision about whether or not to be screened, you should first know your pre-test risk and how accurate the test is likely to be. Online health resources like can be helpful or talk to your GP about understanding your risks and choosing the right test.

A health screening is only worthwhile if knowing the result will be of benefit to your health. If the result is not going to be accurate enough for you to make changes to your lifestyle or to allow medical intervention, then you probably shouldn’t do it. 

An example of tests that wouldn’t be typically used in a health screening would be an ECG test, which is primarily used for detecting a heart attack. A normal ECG does not tell how likely the person is to develop a heart attack in future so wouldn’t be worthwhile.

Most screening tests are relatively cheap, painless and more-or-less accurate, for example blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and cholesterol.

Risk factors

Family history is an important factor as it may increase your risk of developing certain diseases, but that doesn't necessarily mean you should be screened for it. You should sit down with parents or family members and drawing up a family history of disease on both sides of the family.

It’s also important to consider your age, the risk of most diseases goes up with age, so screening becomes more beneficial the older you get.

Consider what you are screening

There are some health screenings that are proven to be beneficial for certain groups of people at risk and are free by the health service such as screenings for breast cancer for over 50, colon cancer and cervical cancer.

However, some screening tests have been proven to have significant downsides, for example prostate cancer, which needs to be carefully considered as sometimes the risk of treatment outweighs the benefits. A thorough conversation of risk and benefit is now done before prostate cancer screening is carried out.

Constantly evolving health screenings

Like most areas in medicine, health screening tests are always evolving and there can often be inconsistency in advice and guidelines with what is best practice between national and international groups.

The best approach is to be informed, talk to your GP and research on reputable websites.

Health screenings are becoming a popular benefit on most health insurance plans, talk to our advisors today if you want to discuss these plans further.


The information contained in this article is from Source, Irish life Health, 2020. Cornmarket cannot be held responsible for content contained on external websites.