Women's beliefs about the purpose and value of routine pelvic examinations.

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that a pelvic examination be offered to asymptomatic women after an informed discussion with their provider. Although the adverse health outcomes that the examination averts were not delineated, the organization stated that it helps establish open communication between patients and physicians. Recent surveys have focused on obstetrician-gynecologists' attitudes and beliefs about the examination, but the perspectives of women have not been well-characterized.

OBJECTIVE

The purpose of this study was to better understand women's beliefs about the purpose and value of routine pelvic examinations.

STUDY DESIGN

We completed structured interviews with 262 women who were 21-65 years old who agreed to participate in a 50-minute interview about cervical cancer screening. Recruitment took place in outpatient women's clinics at a public hospital and an academic medical center in San Francisco, CA. Women were shown an illustration of a bimanual pelvic examination and asked a series of closed-ended questions: if they knew why it was performed, if it reassured them of their health, and if they believed it helped establish open communication with their provider. Women were asked an open-ended question about their perception of the examination's purpose. Multivariable logistic regression analysis was used to identify demographic predictors of responses.

RESULTS

Approximately one-half of the participants (56%) stated that they knew the examination's purpose. The most frequently cited reason was assurance of normalcy. Most of participants (82%) believed that the examination reassured them of their health. Approximately two-thirds of the participants (62%) believed that the examination helps establish open communication with their provider. In multivariate analyses, older age (≥45 years) independently predicted a higher likelihood of a belief that they knew the examination's purpose (odds ratio, 2.9; 95% confidence interval, 1.5-5.6) and a belief that it facilitates open communication (odds ratio, 2.1; 95% confidence interval, 1.1-3.9). Non-white race also was associated with a belief that the examination helps facilitate open communication between patients and providers (odds ratio, 1.9; 95% confidence interval, 1.1-3.1).

CONCLUSION

Approximately one-half of the women who participated in our study reported not knowing the purpose of the pelvic examination, yet most of them believed it to be of some value, especially reassurance of health. To achieve shared, informed decision-making, clinicians will need to communicate better to their patients the examination's purpose.

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