Categories of systematic influences applied to increase cancer screening participation: a literature review and analysis

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BACKGROUND: Health authorities can influence citizens in subtle ways that render them more likely to participate in cancer screening programmes, and thereby possibly increase the beneficial effects. If the influences become too severe, the citizens' ability to make a personal choice may be lost on the way. The purpose of this analysis was to identify and categorize the influences while questioning whether they still permit the citizens to make their own choices regarding participation. METHODS: A two-stringed approach was used to obtain empirical examples of systematic influences that aim to raise participation rates in cancer screening programmes: First, a systematic literature search was conducted on three databases. Second, relevant experts were contacted via internationally based e-mail lists and asked for examples of systematic influences in cancer screening. The present analysis was based on direct, conventional content analysis to address different categories of systematic influences. RESULTS: The literature search yielded 19 included articles and the expert inquiry yielded 11 empirical examples of which content analysis of the empirical examples generated six major categories of systematic influence: (i) misleading presentation of statistics, (ii) misrepresentation of harms vs. benefits, (iii) opt-out systems, (iv) recommendation of participation, (v) fear appeals and (vi) influencing the general practitioners and other healthcare professionals. CONCLUSION: The six categories of identified influences work through psychological biases and personal costs and are still in widely use. The use of these types of influence remains ethically questionable in cancer screening programmes since they might compromise informed decision making.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Public Health
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)200-206
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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