Two examples of items used to test anatomical knowledge
Two examples of items used to test anatomical knowledge

How well do you think you could do on an anatomy quiz like this?  If you frequent the south London public library my guess would be not very good.  That’s what University College London (UCL) researchers have found in a publication that recreated a 1970 study to see if the general public has improved in their knowledge of basic anatomy.

The results show that the public hasn’t improved in this area; or maybe I should restate it to say the medical community has not found a better way to reach the public about this type of anatomical information for the last 40 years.  Very surprising is that patients with diseases affecting specific organs are no better at finding the organ than the general public.  The liver disease and diabetes affected groups were the only two to show a significant increase in identifying their affected organ.

A few other stats that came from this study were that socio-demographic factors were associated with anatomical knowledge, and women did far better when given a representation of the female body.

The media saturation of health issues has surely grown over the last 40 years but yet the population is still no better at knowing the most basic features of anatomy.  The mean age for each selected group fell around 48 years old so there was no bias due to kids and one would assume that by 48 a person has had a few face-to-face meetings with a physician.

A worthwhile study would be to look at where discrepancies enter into the exchange of information.  Somewhere along the communication pathway there is a (or possibly many) reason that the patients and physicians aren’t seeing eye-to-eye.  Its scary to think what information a patient comes away with from a visit with a physician about complicated disease processes and necessary treatment protocols when a good majority can’t even tell you where the diseased organ is in their body.

I like this line that the researchers put at the end of the paper.

“Moreover recent evidence shows that when doctors’ and patients’ vocabulary for anatomical and other terms are matched in the consultation, then significant gains are found in patients’ overall satisfaction with the consultation as well as with specific components of it such as rapport, communication comfort and compliance intent.”1

This type of thing I feel like can easily be remedied by clear communication and doing little things like pointing to the part of the body instead of just saying the organ name all of the time.  Make use of all those pretty body illustrations you paid for in your exam rooms, it seems like that could clear a lot of confusion up.  This is a pretty glaring example of the information divide between health care professionals and patients.  Though we’ll never be able to explain a disease as in depth as we’d like (I mean there is a reason that medical school is difficult, followed by an even more difficult training program) there are some things we can do to make patients a little more stasfied when they leave the office.

This hits close to home as my step-father has Hepatitis C, a diagnosis he received in 1993.  Until earlier this year I don’t think he had much of a clue as to what the disease was, and until a gallstone popped up on an ultrasound no physician had explained to him how his liver coordinates and communicates with the other organ systems.  Liver disease had been an organ isolated disease in his mind until he had to consider the magnitude of a malfunctioning liver on his other body systems.

I leave you with a chart which are super simple to read and pretty much sum up all the data collected for this study.  Gotta love the Creative Commons License from the BMJ.

Percentages of correct answers for the location of each organ by each clinical group and the  general public sample
Percentages of correct answers for the location of each organ by each clinical group and the general public sample

Weinman, J., Yusuf, G., Berks, R., Rayner, S., & Petrie, K. (2009). How accurate is patients’ anatomical knowledge : a cross-sectional, questionnaire study of six patient groups and a general public sample. BMC Family Practice, 10 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1471-2296-10-43
1“The Impact of matching the patient’s vocabulary: a randomized control trial.” Nigel Williams, Jane Ogden. Family Practice 2004, 21(6). doi:10.1093/fampra/cmh610