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Challenges of informed choice in organised screening

Abstract

Context: Despite much research on informed choice and the individuals’ autonomy in organised medical screening, little is known about the individuals’ decision-making process as expressed in their own words.

Objectives: To explore the decision-making process among women invited to a mammography screening programme.

Setting: Women living in the counties of Sør- and Nord-Trøndelag, Norway, invited to the first round of the Norwegian Breast Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) in 2003.

Methods: Qualitative methods based on eight semistructured focus-group interviews with a total of 69 women aged 50–69 years.

Results: The decision to attend mammography screening was not based on the information in the invitation letter and leaflet provided by the NBCSP. They perceived the invitation letter with a prescheduled appointment as if a decision for mammography had already been made. This was experienced as an aid in overcoming the postponements that easily occur in daily lives. The invitation to mammography screening was embraced as an indication of a responsible welfare state, “like a mother taking care.”

Conclusion: In a welfare state where governmental institutions are trusted, mass screening for disease is acknowledged by screening participants as a valued expression of paternalism. Trust, gratitude, and convenience were more important factors than information about benefits, harms, and risks when the women made their decisions to attend screening. These elements should be included in the ethical debates on informed choice in preventive medicine.

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