OBJECTIVE: To determine whether a new system of Papanicolaou test nomenclature (the Bethesda system) or other physician variables influence recommendations for colposcopy and biopsy for women with borderline to moderately abnormal Papanicolaou test results. We hypothesized that physician demographic and practice variables, in addition to Papanicolaou test nomenclature, would influence recommendations for colposcopy. DESIGN: A survey was mailed to a random sample of 510 active members of the American Academy of Family Physicians. PARTICIPANTS: Three hundred thirty-five (66%) of the eligible physicians responded, representing all 50 states. Of those in active practice, 78% were in private practice, with a mean age of 44 years and a mean time in practice of 10 years. Ninety-three percent of respondents in active practice performed Papanicolaou tests. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Rates of recommendation for colposcopy and biopsy in response to abnormal Papanicolaou test reports framed by a single clinical scenario. RESULTS: Physicians recommended colposcopy more often when the Bethesda nomenclature system was used to describe the results of the Papanicolaou test. These differences were significant for four specific Papanicolaou smear pairs. Inclusion of recommendations for further evaluation strongly influenced physicians to recommend colposcopy. In multivariable analyses, demographic and practice variables were not associated with recommendations for colposcopy. CONCLUSIONS: The Bethesda system of nomenclature, when compared with a traditional descriptive nomenclature system, influenced family physicians to recommend colposcopy and biopsy more often for abnormal Papanicolaou test results presented in a clinical scenario. Greater utilization of technology and higher medical care costs may result from use of the Bethesda system. Guidelines for evaluation of abnormal Papanicolaou test results are needed for use in conjunction with the Bethesda system guidelines for Papanicolaou test reports.
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