Research-savvy women who avoid doctors and forgo birth control prescriptions in order to escape pelvic exam coercion have recently been handed additional evidence to support their decisions. A study looking at the pros and cons of pelvic examinations found that routine screening exposes women to unnecessary and avoidable harms with no benefit (reduced mortality or morbidity rates). In a nutshell, the findings from the study support the following conclusions:
- Pelvic examinations in asymptomatic women do not reduce morbidity or mortality rates
- Many false-positive findings are associated with pelvic examinations
- Harms include unnecessary laparoscopies or laparotomies, fear, anxiety, embarrassment, pain, and discomfort, psychological and physical harms, as well as harms associated with the examination itself
- Studies that tracked the misdiagnosis rates and the unnecessary procedure related harms were conspicuously absent in the reviewed literature – and the researchers reviewed literature dating back to 1946 (in other words, no one is keeping track of the extent of these unnecessary harms)
- No evidence was found that pelvic examinations in asymptomatic women provide any benefit
As a result of the study findings, the American College of Physicians (ACP) strongly recommend that doctors stop performing routine pelvic examinations.
Different versions of this news were recently splashed all over mainstream media and many not-so-mainstream media venues such as Slate. It would have been difficult to miss the news that doctors have been advised to stop performing routine pelvic exams. However, given the backlash from ob-gyns and those women who believe they have been protected by routine exams one is left wondering if any changes will take place.