A U.S. national survey shows that nearly 40% of women are nervous and refrain from talking openly with a doctor during their first OB-GYN exam.
The results prompted experts at Orlando Health, who commissioned the survey, to try a new and different approach: inviting girls and parents to meet and discuss with their OB-GYN outside the clinics before a first exam.
Establishing an open dialogue in a more relaxed environment helps the teens to better understand to expect in an examination, what shouldn’t occur, and to share any fears and anxieties.
“This is about empowering young women to take control of their health and know that they have the power in the exam room,” Christine Greves, MD, an OB-GYN at Orlando Health said in a press release.
“Giving them a safe space to talk about any of their fears and hesitations allows them to build confidence in their ability to speak up in a medical setting,” she added.
This first conversation aims to put women at ease, and combat their fear of visiting the OB-GYN office. Such worries often lead to patients missing consultations and putting their health at risk.
Women’s health still needs improvement and certain health conditions are overlooked or ignored by patients and physicians, namely endometriosis, a disease notoriously difficult to diagnose.
“Helping a woman establish an ongoing relationship with her doctor could make her more likely to get the recommended annual care and to ask about anything out of the ordinary that is happening with her health,” Greves said. “These pre-exam meetings are something more young women should be asking for, and most OBGYN offices will be happy to make that appointment for them.”
Recent news reporting cases of young women being abused by physicians can add another layer of suspicion and fear, and a reason why educating patients about the role of the OB-GY and standard exams is vital.
A trusting relationship is also essential for women to feel comfortable enough to ask sensitive questions and give a full spectrum of their health.
“Many victims of sexual assault have said that they were afraid to say something during and after the abuse took place, and that needs to change,” Greves said. “No woman should suffer in silence, and establishing a sense of control early on will hopefully eliminate a lot of that apprehension and help patients stay safe.”
Savanna Harris was 19 when she went to her first OB-GYN visit, and still remembers how nervous she was.
“I had a lot of questions, but I guess I was too embarrassed to ask them, and by the time I was in the exam room it seemed too late for that,” she said.
“I was afraid it was going to be painful or that they were going to find something wrong with me. I also had no idea that I could have someone in the room with me, and I think having a friend or family member’s support would have made me feel a lot better,” Harris added.
Greves is encouraging pediatricians and primary care physicians to make teenagers and their parents aware of this option before meeting with an OB-GYN and talking with them before their first examination.