BACKGROUND: The engagement of citizens in the development of evidence-based screening programs is internationally supported. The aim of our research was to explore the motivations and reasons of adult citizens in Austria for attending periodic health examinations (PHE) as well as their satisfaction with the way PHE are organized.
METHODS: We conducted three focus groups with a random sample of previous attenders of PHE. Participants were stratified by age, gender, and education. The discussions were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using a thematic analysis approach.
RESULTS: Main motivations of attenders (n = 30) were to detect diseases early, to prevent suffering, and to live a long, healthy life. They believed that PHE work as an incentive of health behavior change. As possible reasons not to attend PHE, participants mentioned lack of awareness, time constraints, unpleasant prior experiences, and fear of harm or negative consequences. They wanted the range of examinations to be selected based on individual risks and to be more comprehensive. Some participants expressed frustration with the lack of time doctors dedicated to the examination or discussion of the results. Throughout the discussion, participants realized there is a great diversity among doctors in the quality of health examinations and how content is delivered.
CONCLUSION: The study showed that attenders of PHE have high expectations concerning the beneficial outcomes of PHE. They requested a comprehensive and individualized program that does not reflect the scientific evidence from effectiveness studies of PHE. These findings indicate serious shortcomings in the communication of benefits and harms of screening interventions and highlight the need for a more proactive communication about aims and content of the program.