Aim. This paper reports phase II of a pilot study that aimed to determine whether self-insertion of a speculum by women undergoing a pap smear would be more comfortable and lead to an improvement in satisfaction and a decrease in anxiety associated with this procedure.
Background. Research demonstrates that pelvic examinations are considered by most women to be unpleasant and are routinely associated with embarrassment, apprehension, fear and often some level of discomfort and/or pain.
Design. The study used quantitative and qualitative data collection techniques. Phase I (described elsewhere) tested the newly developed Speculum Self-Insertion Satisfaction Questionnaire for content validity, internal consistency and clarity. Phase II pilot study tested the technique of speculum self-insertion. Women's general level of anxiety was measured using the State Trait Anxiety Inventory, both before and after they performed the self-insertion procedure. Women's satisfaction and acceptance of the procedure was measured using the Speculum Self-Insertion Satisfaction Questionnaire and explored through the use of qualitative research techniques.
Participants. A total of 198 women attending family planning clinics in Perth, Western Australia, between September and December 2003 were invited to participate in the study. One hundred and thirty-three women agreed to self-insert their own speculum.
Results. The study demonstrated that speculum self-insertion was acceptable to most women, especially younger women. Nearly 91% of women either agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with the experience of self-insertion and would choose to self-insert the speculum again. This included the women who had not previously had a speculum examination. The quality of specimen collected was not detrimentally affected by speculum self-insertion.
Conclusions. The results of this pilot research, while needing to be replicated in a larger study, demonstrate that offering women the opportunity to self-insert a speculum during a routine pelvic examination is an acceptable, innovative, simple and cost-neutral change in clinical practice that increases women's comfort and satisfaction and potentially makes sexual health screening less threatening to women of all ages.
Relevance to clinical practice. Speculum self-insertion may encourage women's attendance at clinics for regular screening. Early diagnosis and treatment will result in better health outcomes for women, families and the community at large.