INTRODUCTION AND HYPOTHESIS: Health literacy underpins informed consent and shared decision-making. In gynaecology, this includes understanding of normal anatomy and urogenital disease. This study evaluated public knowledge of external female genital anatomy and pelvic organ prolapse (POP).
METHODS: A questionnaire study asked participants for their demographics and to label a female external genitalia diagram and included free-text questions on POP, its symptoms and treatment. Questionnaires were distributed at general outpatient (OPD) and urogynaecology (UG) departments at a UK teaching hospital. Differences in the number of correct anatomy labels between participant genders were assessed via chi-squared tests and, within female participants, multivariable linear and logistic regressions assessed associations with increasing correct anatomical labels and an understanding (versus no understanding) of POP, respectively.
RESULTS: Within 191 (n = 160 OPD, n = 31 UG), 9/103 (9%) labelled all anatomical structures correctly. Females had more correct labels (median 1, IQR 0,3) versus males (median 0, IQR 0,1), P = 0.022). Higher education (vs. < secondary) and white ethnicity were associated with greater numbers of correct labels [coefficient (95% CI): 1.05 (0.14, 1.96), P = 0.024, 1.45 (0.58, 2.33), P = 0.001 respectively]. Fifty-three per cent understood POP. POP understanding increased with increasing age, white ethnicity (OR: 4.38, 95% CI: 1.36, 14.08, P = 0.013) and more correct anatomy labels (OR: 1.43, 95% CI 1.14, 1.79, P = 0.002). Of those who understood POP, only 35% identified "bulge" as a symptom and 7% physiotherapy as a treatment option.
CONCLUSION: There was poor public understanding of external female genital anatomy and POP, which may have significant implications for health-seeking, shared decision-making and informed consent.