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Helpful Information

Questions and Answers

Questions and answers about clinical preventive services and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).

Tell Me More about Clinical Preventive Services

Clinical preventive services include:

Health care providers offer clinical preventive services to find or prevent specific medical conditions in patients who have no signs or symptoms of those conditions. These services are offered to patients who may develop a condition because of their lifestyle, age, gender, personal or family medical history, or a combination of these. Some preventive services are meant to catch diseases early, and others are meant to prevent diseases entirely.

The USPSTF recognizes the importance of immunizations in primary disease prevention. The USPSTF refers to recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for immunization of children and adults.

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Tell Me More about the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)

The USPSTF is supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and is made up of doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals with expertise in family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, geriatrics, preventive medicine, public health, behavioral medicine, and nursing. USPSTF members are experts in prevention, evidence-based medicine, and primary care. Recommendations made by the USPSTF are independent of the U.S. Government. The USPSTF has sole responsibility for reviewing the evidence and making recommendations about clinical preventive services. The USPSTF has no regulatory authority.

The USPSTF systematically reviews the evidence for prioritized clinical preventive services to determine the balance of benefits and harms for specific groups of people based on age, gender, and other risk factors for disease. Based on that evidence review, the USPSTF makes recommendations to primary care providers about which clinical preventive health care services to offer their patients and how often.

For the USPSTF to consider a preventive service to be effective, benefits must outweigh the harms. The USPSTF looks at several different types of harms, including direct physical harms such as harms from invasive procedures, and "downstream" harms, such as the risks of follow-up testing or of treatments. The USPSTF also considers excessive time or effort needed on the part of either the patient or the health care provider to be a burden of providing the service. For a detailed explanation of the USPSTF's methods, go to the USPSTF Procedure Manual at http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf08/methods/procmanual.htm.

USPSTF recommendations are intended to improve the health of individuals and society by reducing the length of and need for medical treatment.

The USPSTF also regularly reviews the scientific evidence for its recommendations to determine whether they are still current. This review allows the USPSTF to find where evidence is missing and recommend areas of research for scientists who study clinical preventive medicine. Since its beginnings, the USPSTF has addressed nearly 70 preventive health topics. The USPSTF aims to update its recommendations at least every five years.

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Tell Me How the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Supports the USPSTF

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an independent panel of non-Federal experts in prevention and primary care. The USPSTF was first assembled by the U.S. Public Health Service in 1984, and has been supported by AHRQ since 1998. Through the Public Health Service Act, AHRQ is authorized to convene the USPSTF to conduct scientific evidence reviews of a broad range of clinical preventive services and develop recommendations for the health care community. AHRQ provides administrative, research, technical, and dissemination support to the USPSTF.

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Tell Me More about the USPSTF Recommendation Statements, and How They Are Used

When the USPSTF completes its review of the scientific evidence on a particular preventive service, the group publishes a Recommendation Statement in a medical journal, such as Annals of Internal Medicine, or on the AHRQ Web site. The USPSTF Recommendation Statements present primary care providers, including doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who care for patients, with information about the evidence behind each recommendation so they can make informed decisions about how to use the recommendations in their practices.

The Recommendation Statement is accompanied by supporting documents that present the evidence in detail.

The foundation of the Recommendation Statement is the recommendations themselves. Each USPSTF recommendation is given a grade based on the strength of the evidence about the benefits and harms of the preventive service.

Suggestions for Practice
The USPSTF recommends the service. There is high certainty that the net benefit is substantial. Offer or provide this service.
The USPSTF recommends the service. There is high certainty that the net benefit is moderate or there is moderate certainty that the net benefit is moderate to substantial. Offer or provide this service.
The USPSTF recommends selectively offering or providing this service to individual patients based on professional judgment and patient preferences. There is at least moderate certainty that the net benefit is small. Offer or provide this service for selected patients depending on individual circumstances.
The USPSTF recommends against the service. There is moderate or high certainty that the service has no net benefit or that the harms outweigh the benefits. Discourage the use of this service.
I Statement
The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of the service. Evidence is lacking, of poor quality, or conflicting, and the balance of benefits and harms cannot be determined. Read the clinical considerations section of USPSTF Recommendation Statement. If the service is offered, patients should understand the uncertainty about the balance of benefits and harms.

In addition to the recommendations, Recommendation Statements include the USPSTF's reasoning for the recommendations, guidance for primary care providers who want to use the recommendations in their practices, and a discussion of the evidence. Each Statement also reports the recommendations of other professional groups, which may be different from those of the USPSTF.

Primary care providers, policymakers, Federal and State agencies, insurers, and other health care providers rely on USPSTF Recommendation Statements as decisionmaking resources. The USPSTF recommendations serve as clinical standards for many professional societies, health organizations, and medical quality review groups. They are used widely in undergraduate and post-graduate medical and nursing studies. However, the USPSTF has no regulatory authority.

All USPSTF Recommendation Statements are available on the USPSTF Web site at http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org. They are also published every year in the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, available on the USPSTF Web site and in print from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse at AHRQpubs@ahrq.hhs.gov or toll-free at 800-358-9295. AHRQ's Electronic Preventive Services Selector (ePSS) can help primary care clinicians identify the clinical preventive services that are appropriate for their patients. The ePSS Web and mobile applications can be searched by specific patient characteristics, such as age, sex, and selected behavioral risk factors; this tool is available at http://epss.ahrq.gov.

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Tell Me Why USPSTF Recommendations Are Addressed to Primary Care Providers Instead of Individuals

Since it began its work, the USPSTF has considered primary care providers the main audience for its recommendations. The medical literature that is the basis for the recommendations of the USPSTF provides evidence regarding the potential benefits and harms of clinical preventive services for large groups of people or populations. This type of information is useful to primary care clinicians and health systems when they consider how to organize their practices and provide care. The USPSTF recognizes that skilled clinicians serve their patients by individualizing recommendations based on evidence from large groups of people to the specific circumstances, values, and perspectives of the individual patient. The USPSTF has recently committed to doing more to help make its population-based recommendations more easily understandable by members of the public as well as by primary care providers. On the http://healthfinder.gov page, sponsored by the National Health Information Center, consumers can use the myhealthfinder tool to find USPSTF recommendations based on a person's age, sex, and other characteristics. The information in the myhealthfinder tool is specifically designed for members of the public.

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Tell Me Who Serves on the USPSTF and How They Are Selected

Since 2001, the USPSTF has been a standing Task Force of 16 members, including a Chair and a Vice-Chair. Members are invited to serve for a 4-year term, with a possible 1- to 2-year extension. Each year, a notice is placed in the Federal Register soliciting nominations for USPSTF members to replace those who have completed their appointments. Anyone can submit a nomination; self-nominations also are accepted.

New members are selected by the Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) in consultation with the USPSTF leadership. Members are chosen based on their qualifications and the current needs of the USPSTF for particular areas of expertise.

The 16 USPSTF members represent an array of experts in primary care and preventive health-related disciplines, including internal medicine, family medicine, behavioral medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, and nursing.

For a current list of members of the USPSTF and their affiliations, go to: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/members.htm.

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Tell Me How I Can Nominate a Clinical Preventive Health Service For the USPSTF to Consider

For full information on nominating topics for the USPSTF to consider, select http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/tftopicnom.htm.

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Current as of August 2013

Internet Citation:

Helpful Information: Questions and Answers. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/commentqa.htm


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