Walking the tightrope: Communicating overdiagnosis in modern healthcare

4 min


Over-diagnosis and over treatment (relevant to prostate cancer screening and screening for other cancers) have serious implications for individuals, healthcare systems, and society, and effective strategies are needed to help the public, clinicians, and policy makers address this problem.

There are several challenges to communicating balanced information about over-diagnosis including the potential to confuse the public, undermine trust in the healthcare system, and adversely affecting people who already have a diagnosis.

However, there are some strategies that can potentially manage these challenges.


To describe what is known and what we need to know to communicate effectively and safely about over-diagnosis and overtreatment.


The authors have reviewed the literature to describe what is known about effective communication about over-diagnosis and over-treatment and argue the case for a greater understanding of the gaps in our knowledge of effective communication strategies and the importance of helping patients, healthcare providers and others to understand the issues and make informed decisions about undergoing healthcare tests or treatments.



The review showed that more studies are needed about the current understanding of over-diagnosis by patients, doctors and the public and attitudes and choices when presented with such information.

We also need to understand how best to implement effective communication strategies and how to avoid potential harms of such communication such as confusing the public, creating distrust and adversely affecting individuals already diagnosed and treated.

The authors argue that we have some tools to move forward with an evidence-based approach but it will take time to achieve widespread understanding of over-diagnosis.

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