Today was another big day for "that medical procedure you've been having? It's useless!" stories. This time it was women's pelvic exams, although much of the reporting seemed to lump all of those things that happen at the gynecologist's office into one big "in the stirrups" event, and claim that it was all a waste of time.
The Annals of Internal Medicine released a study recommending against "performing screening pelvic examination" in patients without symptoms that would suggest they need their pelvis examined.
But, as writer and registered nurse Kelli Dunham points out at the New Republic, that doesn't actually count as a condemnation of the whole event. The pap smear that is usually done in the middle of a pelvic exam still gets the green light from the American College of Physicians and the American Cancer Society.
I highly recommend heading over to the New Republic to read Dunham's piece. Not only does she delve into just what the study said and how those covering it failed, in many cases, to capture this key detail, she also shares her personal experience as a registered nurse working with patients who already experience so much stigma and anxiety connected with getting examined at all.
Click-bait headlines and mixed messages do nothing to alleviate this stigma and anxiety, let alone provide the clear message that health journalism should be striving to deliver. We synthesize the information in medical studies because it's already confusing or inaccessible to the average reader; inattention to important details like the difference between a pelvic exam and a pap smear, especially with a study that gives such a clear recommendation, can be both sloppy and dangerous.