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Study: Free pap screening does not increase participation

Researchers say reminding women to get screenings, through the mail or over the phone, is as effective as dropping the cost of the procedure.

By Stephen Feller
Pre-booked appointments, contact through the mail and midwives calling to remind women may be better methods of encouraging women to get pap tests than lowering the cost, researchers in Sweden suggest after a recent study. Photo by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
Pre-booked appointments, contact through the mail and midwives calling to remind women may be better methods of encouraging women to get pap tests than lowering the cost, researchers in Sweden suggest after a recent study. Photo by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

GOTHENBURG, Sweden, March 21 (UPI) -- Offering pap tests for free did not increase the number of women who participated in screening, according to a study conducted in Sweden.

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg offered gynecological screenings at no cost in lower-income areas, finding women were not more likely to get screened for cervical cancer.

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One researcher in the study suggests prices be increased, saying the savings would possibly be better used elsewhere.

"We were actually surprised by the results," said Emilia Alfonzo, a researchers at the University of Gothenburg, in a press release. "We thought that free pap test screening would increase participation, particularly in the socioeconomically disadvantaged areas that have lower participation than the rest of the city."

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For the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers randomly contacted 3,124 women in three low-resource areas in Gothenburg who were due for pap tests, either inviting them do so for free or simply reminding them to schedule the screening.

The researchers found no statistical difference between those offered a free screening or who got a reminder that scheduled an appointment and had the screening.

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While Björn Strander, a researcher at the University of Gothenburg, said screening is important, he said the study suggests cost does not matter, there are other ways to motivate women to get the tests such as pre-booked appointments, reminders by mail and midwives calling to remind them.

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"This result should not be used as an argument to raise fees or introduce fees where it has previously been free," Strander said. "You have to remember that the fee is low, $12, and a higher fee can very well be a deterrent. But the results teach us that funds that could be used to remove this low fee, could better be used elsewhere."

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