Understanding the psychological impact of neonatal screening on parents: The example of neonatal hearing screening.
Theresa Marteau, Department of Psychology, Guy's, King's and St Thomas' School of Medicine.
Screening can improve the health of populations. It can also cause anxiety, particularly amongst those who are recalled for further testing, the majority of whom will not be found to have a problem. It is widely believed that the frequency and level of such anxiety would be reduced if those participating in screening programmes had a better understanding of the meaning of possible test results. Evidence to support this hypothesis will be provided using data from a recent study describing the impact upon maternal anxiety of newborn hearing screening. Amongst 344 mothers of newborn babies undergoing screening for hearing loss, 55 were referred for an audiological assessment. Those that correctly understood that this was unlikely to mean that the baby had a hearing loss were less anxious and less worried about their babies' hearing. This suggests that knowledge about the meaning of being recalled following screening may avert some of the adverse psychological effects of being recalled. Methods of achieving this need to be developed and incorporated into the routine provision of screening programmes.