Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 September 2001
Objective: To review the assessment and implementation of three screening methods: mammography for breast cancer, screening for prostate cancer, and routine use of ultrasound in pregnancy.
Methods: To review policy documents and published papers dealing with prevention and screening in the Netherlands, focusing on the three screening methods specified.
Results: The results indicate that the Netherlands has an active establishment devoted to health technology assessment (HTA). The Netherlands government has also made prevention a high priority in the health services system. Within prevention policy, HTA is given an important place. The general policy is that prevention programs should meet high standards of effectiveness and efficiency, as well as ethical, legal, and social acceptability. In addition, the Netherlands may be unique in the world in having a specific law requiring that proposals for population screening must be carefully assessed before they are implemented.
Conclusions: The three cases examined in this paper have all been assessed, and the conclusions are similar to those presented in the synthesis published in this issue (33). In the case of mammography, the assessment was followed by a rational implementation of a national screening program for breast cancer. In the other two cases, however, despite negative conclusions from assessment, the tests are frequently carried out, especially in what has been termed opportunistic screening. Prostate cancer screening seems to be spreading rapidly. Use of ultrasound in pregnancy is frequent, not necessarily for medical reasons but because parents wish to have a picture of their fetus. The conclusion is that HTA is well established in the Netherlands, as illustrated in these three cases, and policy is based on the assessments done. However, practice is not in accord with the assessment in the cases of prostate cancer and routine ultrasound. Policies to deal effectively with opportunistic screening are difficult to imagine.