Pediatric screening enables the prevention or early detection of diseases and developmental disturbances in infancy and childhood. Screening is a standard component of pediatric practice in many countries, but its scientific basis is not well known.
The scientific justification for pediatric screening beyond the neonatal period is presented on the basis of a selective review of the literature on some aspects of pediatric screening.
The level of evidence varies highly among pediatric screening interventions and can be difficult to determine because of confounding variables. Parent counseling is associated with improvements in child-raising competence, accident prevention, and reading behavior. The early detection of abnormalities in a child's motor, linguistic, mental, or social development is possible and often leads to effective early interventions. Cyanotic congenital heart defects can be detected with 63% sensitivity and 99.8% specificity; cerebral palsy can be diagnosed with 33% to 100% sensitivity and 52.3% to 100% specificity (different figures from multiple studies). Physical therapy seems to improve some manifestations of cerebral palsy. Motor development at 90 days is correlated with motor development at 57 months (72% sensitivity, 91% specificity). A developmental quotient above 85 in a two-year-old child is correlated with an intelligence quotient above 85 when the child is 7 years old.
There is an increasing amount of scientific evidence in favor of pediatric screening. Nonetheless, further epidemiological studies are needed.