Duke pediatrician Alex Kemper has been selected to join the US Preventive Services Task Force.

Kemper will serve a four-year term on the task force, which makes recommendations on preventive medical tools, tests, procedures and policies. As a physician, Kemper focuses on research regarding how medical care delivery and public health services affect children and will contribute this knowledge to the task force. During his active term, Kemper and other members will consider a variety of treatment issues such as autism care, counseling and cancer screenings.

“We are extremely pleased that [Kemper] was willing to accept this responsibility. It’s a lot of work,” said Virginia Moyer, director of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. “It’s a lot of responsibility and we are very pleased to have him on the task force.”

There are 15 members on the task force each serving a four-year term, Moyer said. The task force accepts recommendations from anyone, and then evaluates candidates before making appointments. Kemper, who was nominated in the middle of last year and began his term Jan. 1, will attend his first task force meeting in early March.

“The purpose of the preventive services task force is to make recommendations to clinicians as well as the public as to what things are really worth doing,” Kemper said. “The task force evaluates all the scientific evidence that is out there and from that, it makes a series of recommendations.”

The task force has dozens of active recommendations on approximately 70 topics listed on its website, Moyer said. The task force examines medical preventive measures and grades them on an A through D scale, with A and B grades indicating a positive recommendation, a C grade indicating a neutral recommendation, and a D grade indicating a negative recommendation.

The task force nominates certain topics on which they issue recommendations, but only considers topics which have special importance and which could be influenced by the task force.

“We don’t undertake just any topic,” Moyer said. “We are limited by the fact that we are all volunteers, all of us have day jobs, and so we can only undertake a certain amount of work.”

Dennis Darcey, chief of the Duke Medical Center’s Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, noted that the importance of the task force comes from the fact that many of the most prevalent diseases today are preventable.

“Most of these chronic diseases we suffer from in our society are preventable,” Darcey said. “Lifestyle changes-— stopping smoking, good diet, exercise, all the common things you hear about all the time—they do make an impact in preventing these common diseases.”

Although healthcare costs and the high price of medical testing is becoming an increasingly important issue both economically and politically, the task force does not take cost into account when making recommendations, Moyer said. It simply weighs the benefits for any procedure or process against the risks.

“We make our recommendations based on the scientific evidence of benefit for health, and we do not consider cost as part of that,” Moyer said. “That is for other people to consider. Our task is to look at the scientific evidence and decide which preventive services are likely to improve health.”

Going forward, Moyer identified a number of topics which may make their way to the task force for consideration. These include everything from preventing cavities in children to diagnosing autism.

Darcey also pointed to recent studies casting doubt on the effectiveness of mammograms as another indication of what the task force might look at in the near future.