Objectives: Understanding why people do not always engage in medical examinations that might benefit them is a public health issue which is receiving increased attention. One area of promise involves the study of medical embarrassment, although current studies are weakened in that they measure medical embarrassment in a theoretically naïve and unidimensional manner and have assumed that embarrassment is exclusively a barrier to the timely seeking of treatment.
Design: Convenience sampling was used to recruit 116 male and 134 female students (mean age = 19.94 years, 47.2% Caucasian, 20.4% African-American, 32.4% Asian) from two large universities in different parts of the United States.
Methods: Participants completed a comprehensive measure of medical embarrassment, reported on previous treatment avoidance because of embarrassment, and recorded the frequency of psychological, general and sex-related visits across the previous 5 years.
Results: As expected, medical embarrassment was not unidimensional and appeared to have two distinct factors--bodily embarrassment and judgment concern. Bodily embarrassment generally predicted less frequent medical contact although not equally so across domains and it interacted with judgment concern in several cases, providing preliminary evidence that there are situations in which aspects of medical embarrassment may actually facilitate greater medical contact.
Conclusions: The data highlight the importance of considering the role of emotions other than fear in health behaviour and the means by which they may facilitate or deter the timely seeking of diagnosis and treatment.