Do follow-up recommendations for abnormal Papanicolaou smears influence patient adherence?

Arch Fam Med. Nov-Dec 1999;8(6):510-4. doi: 10.1001/archfami.8.6.510.


Objective: To compare adherence to follow-up recommendations for colposcopy or repeated Papanicolaou (Pap) smears for women with previously abnormal Pap smear results.

Design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: Three northern California family planning clinics.

Patients: All women with abnormal Pap smear results referred for initial colposcopy and a random sample of those referred for repeated Pap smear. Medical records were located and reviewed for 90 of 107 women referred for colposcopy and 153 of 225 women referred for repeated Pap smears.

Intervention: Routine clinic protocols for follow-up--telephone call, letter, or certified letter--were applied without regard to the type of abnormality seen on a Pap smear or recommended examination.

Main outcome measures: Documented adherence to follow-up within 8 months of an abnormal result. Attempts to contact the patients for follow-up, adherence to follow-up recommendations, and patient characteristics were abstracted from medical records. The probability of adherence to follow-up vs the number of follow-up attempts was modeled with survival analysis. Cox proportional hazards models were used to examine multivariate relationships related to adherence.

Results: The rate of overall adherence to follow-up recommendations was 56.0% (136/243). Adherence to a second colposcopy was not significantly different from that to a repeated Pap smear (odds ratio, 1.40; 95% confidence interval, 0.80-2.46). The use of as many as 3 patient reminders substantially improved adherence to follow-up. Women without insurance and women attending 1 of the 3 clinics were less likely to adhere to any follow-up recommendation (hazard ratio for no insurance, 0.43 [95% confidence interval, 0.20-0.93], and for clinic, 0.35 [95% confidence interval, 0.15-0.73]).

Conclusions: Adherence to follow-up was low in this family planning clinic population, no matter what type of follow-up was advised. Adherence was improved by the use of up to 3 reminders. Allocating resources to effective methods for improving adherence to follow-up of abnormal results may be more important than which follow-up procedure is recommended.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cervix Uteri / pathology
  • Colposcopy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Papanicolaou Test*
  • Patient Compliance*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Vaginal Smears*