Background Concern exists that women, and in particular teenagers, do not consult in general practice, particularly for contraception because of embarrassment and concern over confidentiality. The aim of this study was to compare reported consultation rates, embarrassment when consulting, and views on confidentiality of women in three age groups.
Methods A postal questionnaire was used to survey women aged 16–19, 36–39 and 56–59 years attending a semi-rural practice in East Devon, UK in December 1999.
Results Response rates of 57% (teenagers), 79% (women in their thirties) and 89% (women in their fifties) were achieved. In each group over half the respondents had seen a general practitioner (GP) in the previous 3 months. Embarrassment at attending a GP decreased from 38% of teenagers to only 16% of women in their fifties. There was a similar pattern with 78% of teens and 42% of women in their fifties preferring to see a woman doctor for a women's problem and 31% of teens and 18% of women in their fifties expressing a preference for a woman doctor for any problem. Some 97% of women in their thirties and fifties thought a consultation with a GP would be confidential compared with 88% of the teenagers. Only 9% of the teenage group thought the GP might tell their parents about the consultation.
Conclusions This study found that teenagers were just as likely as older women to have seen a GP in the preceding 3 months. Embarrassment at attending decreased with age, as did the preference to see a female doctor for both women's and any problems. The majority of women in each age group believed a consultation with a GP, or practice nurse, was confidential.
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