Public doesn't know its ass from its elbow

Posted by Emma Woollacott

London, UK - More than half of hospital patients and members of the general public don't know where their heart is, according to a study.


A team of researchers at King's College London aimed to update a similar survey carried out 40 years ago. Team leader John Weinman commented, "We thought that the improvements in education seen since then, 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."


Dream on, John. "As it turns out, there has been no significant improvement in the intervening years," says Weinman.


The 722 people who took part in the study were shown pictures of the human body - male or female - with certain areas shaded out, and were asked which of the shaded areas was the location of a given organ.


Although 85.9 percent of people could identify the location of the intestines and 80.7 percent knew where the bladder could be found, only 46.5 percent of people correctly identified the heart and 68.6 percent misidentified the position of the lungs.


Overall, around half the answers were correct. There was no significant difference between men and women, although women did perform better when a female body image was used.


The effect apparently persisted even when the individuals concerned were being asked about an organ for which they were currently receiving treatment, and the researchers reckon the findings present a bit of a problem for doctor-patient communication.


The research appears in the open access journal BMC Family Practice.