Table 1

Potential outcomes of screening tests with varying levels of sensitivity and specificity
Test characteristic High sensitivity High specificity
Impact on results ↑ True positives ↑ True negatives
Testing goal Identify people with disease Identify people without disease
Treatment goal · Treat disease · Avoid unnecessary treatment
· Prevent future illness and, in the case of infection, possible disease spread
Potential harms of opposite test characteristic Low sensitivity: Low specificity:
· ↑ False negatives · ↑ False positives
· ↑ Potential future illness and suffering · ↑ Bodily harms, toxicity, and financial costs of unnecessary treatment
· ↑ Potential future spread of disease (in the case of infection) · ↑ Social stigmatization
· ↓ confidence in screening program

Bentley et al.

Bentley et al. BMC Research Notes 2012 5:563   doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-563

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