Anatomy Report Card: Public Gets an 'F'

FRIDAY June 12, 2009 -- Despite access to the Internet and advances in health education, people still don't seem to know their bodies very well.

A study by British researchers found that many people are ignorant of basic human anatomy and unable to pinpoint the location of several major organs, including the heart and lungs. This was true even if the organ was related to a person's current medical treatment.

The researchers expressed concern that the finding, which duplicates the results of a similar study done 40 years ago, might be another factor that hampers critical doctor-patient communication, causing delays and confusion in diagnosis and treatment.

"Recent evidence has shown that when doctors' and patients' vocabulary are matched, significant gains are found in patients' overall satisfaction with the consultation as well as rapport, communication comfort and compliance intent," study leader John Weinman, a professor at King's College London, noted in a news release from the publisher BioMed Central. The is in its online journal BMC Family Practice.

The researchers asked 722 people to view pictures of men and women with certain areas shaded and to then identify which shaded region contained a certain organ. Though more than 80 percent correctly pointed out the location of the intestines and bladder, more than two-thirds incorrectly placed the lungs and more than half got the location of the heart wrong.

Men and women scored about the same overall, with the participants getting about half the answers right. However, women scored better when the picture was of a woman instead of a man.

"We thought that the improvements in education [in the last four decades], coupled with an increased media focus on medical and health-related topics and growing access to the Internet as a source of medical information might have led to an increase in patients' anatomical knowledge," Weinman said. "As it turns out, there has been no significant improvement in the intervening years."

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on understanding the human body.

Posted: June 2009


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