Background: Experts defined a "minimum medical knowledge" (MMK) that people need for understanding typical signs and/or risk factors of four relevant clinical conditions: myocardial infarction, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and HIV/AIDS. We tested to what degree Swiss adult citizens satisfy this criterion for MMK and whether people with medical experience have acquired better knowledge than those without.
Methods: Questionnaire interview in a Swiss urban area with 185 Swiss citizens (median age 29 years, interquartile range 23 to 49, 52% male). We obtained context information on age, gender, highest educational level, (para)medical background and specific health experience with one of the conditions in the social surrounding. We calculated the proportion of MMK and examined whether citizens with medical background (personal or professional) would perform better compared to other groups.
Results: No single citizen reached the full MMK (100%). The mean MMK was as low as 32% and the range was 0-72%. Surprisingly, multivariable analysis showed that participants with a university degree (n = 84; beta (95% CI) +3.7% MMK (0.4-7.1) p = 0.03), (para)medical background (n = 34; +6.2% MMK (2.0-10.4), p = 0.004) and personal illness experience (n = 96; +4.9% MMK (1.5-8.2), p = 0.004) had only a moderately higher MMK than those without, while age and sex had no effect on the level of MMK. Interaction between university degree and clinical experience (personal or professional) showed no effect suggesting that higher education lacks synergistic effect.
Conclusion: This sample of Swiss citizens did not know more than a third of the MMK. We found little difference within groups with medical experience (personal or professional), suggesting that there is a consistent and dramatic lack of knowledge in the general public about the typical signs and risk factors of relevant clinical conditions.