1. Health

Women Face Fear and Anxiety About Gynecologist Visits

Lack of Patient/ Physician Communication Cited

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Updated June 15, 2005

How do you feel about going to your gynecologist? Does just the thought of your annual exam, or your first visit to the gynecologist make you cringe? You are definitely not alone! While many women have no qualms about visiting the gynecologist, other women often experience fear and anxiety just thinking about going to the gynecologist.

According to Marifran Mattson, an associate communications professor at Purdue University who studies health communications, “Many women suffer tremendous anxiety about their annual gynecological exam. The anxiety is preventing women from receiving the best care possible, and many women who seek care regularly are not pleased with their visits. Patient education is key to alleviating anxiety associated with these vulnerable visits because it inspires women to be more confident in demanding that their individuality be respected and their input be considered.”

A survey, conducted by Mattson and Maria Braun who is an associate professor of communication studies at West Virginia University, of 79 women between the ages of 18 and 71 revealed the fears that women have about the care they receive from gynecologists and how their gynecologists reacted to their anxiety. This survey was different from others in that it asked the women to describe their gynecologist visits in their own words rather than rating them on a scale.

The full results of the survey were published in November 2003 in the book “Gender in Applied Communication Contexts,” and in the chapter “Reframing Communication During Gynecological Exams.”

What reasons did women give for their fear and anxiety about their annual gynecological exams? Nearly two-thirds of the women surveyed expressed some degree of anxiety about the gender of the gynecologists with most of their concerns connected to the gynecologist be a male physician. Other reasons given by the surveyed women include:

  • Feelings of discomfort
  • Embarrassment
  • Personal intrusion
  • Fear of finding a problem such as cancer
Most often the women who experienced these fears did not communicate their feelings to their gynecologist, in most cases because they felt that doctors were “uncaring and patronizing.” Women who did share their feelings said that their gynecologists often laughed or told them to just relax. According to the research women want better communication with their doctors but they often do not feel comfortable with sharing their concerns.

According to Braun, “The focus should be on the well-being of the patient, and the goal of any health care interaction should be on maintaining a caring relationship. Because there are two parties involved in the relationship, both should be responsible for creating that relationship. Physicians need to see women as people who experience real anxieties, not just illnesses. And patients need to start, or continue, being assertive when addressing such concerns with their gynecologists.”

Simple changes by gynecologists can improve their communication skills says Braun. These are things as simple as making eye contact and avoiding being condescending. She also says patients should demand more time with their doctor to share concerns and ask the questions about their health that concerns them.

Mattson says, “A woman’s dignity must be maintained throughout the exam, especially considering the vulnerable position that women are in when they go to the gynecologist. A genuine relationship between a patient and physician is created and maintained through communication. Improved communications may help alleviate the anxiety women experience before, during, and after exams. When a woman knows that her gynecologist cares for her, she feels comfortable expressing herself, and that empowers women to be active in seeking health care and contributing to the decision making in their care.”

What can you do if your gynecologist doesn’t share your concerns, or if you are unable to express your personal fears and anxieties to your doctor? First decide if you would feel more comfortable with a male or female doctor. Once that is decided, ask your family and friends about gynecologists that they may know. Personal referrals from others who have seen a particular gynecologist are often one of the best ways to find a doctor who is willing to have an open line of communication with you.

If finding a gynecologist through personal referral is not possible, call several gynecology offices in your area and talk with the staff, ask if you can talk with the doctor’s nurse who can tell you more about the doctor’s communication style and patient philosophy.

The most important thing to remember is that you are not obligated to continue seeing a particular gynecologist if you are not comfortable. Don’t be afraid to seek another doctor or to ask for second opinions when you are not comfortable with your gynecologist’s evaluation of your health. Your comfort is something that you cannot deny yourself!

Source: Purdue University

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