Women's understanding of their Pap and HPV test results: Implications for patient–provider communication

Katharine J. Head, Teresa M. Imburgia, Gregory Zimet, Marcia Shew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations


Background: As changing guidelines for cervical cancer detection incorporate more human papillomavirus (HPV) testing along with Papanicolaou (Pap) smear testing (‘co-testing’) in clinical practice, there is a need to evaluate patient understanding of these two tests. Methods: Thirty women (mean age = 27.8 years; 90% African-American) with low SEC status were recruited for two clinical research visits; a Pap test and cervical HPV test were performed at the first visit and a doctor shared the test results (i.e. Pap and HPV test) at the second. Then, a semi-structured interview focused on participants’ recall of the discussion with the provider as well as their general understanding of the tests. Results: Findings revealed participants were familiar with the Pap test and were proactive about receiving the test, despite lacking accurate knowledge about the purpose of the test. On the other hand, when participants expressed confusion and anxiety about the HPV test, patient–provider communication helped to ease some of these concerns. Patients expressed a range of ability in reconciling how the two tests were connected, what the two results meant together, and why both are needed. Conclusion: This qualitative data suggests important gaps in women's understandings of Pap test and HPV test results, especially when used together in a clinical visit. There is a need to address this lack of understanding as the use of co-testing in clinical practice increases. Implications for improved communication strategies between patients and providers about how to share and interpret Pap test and HPV tests results in the clinical setting are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Communication in Healthcare
StateAccepted/In press - Feb 2 2017


  • Health literacy
  • HPV
  • HPV test
  • Human papillomavirus
  • Pap test
  • Patient–provider communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Health Information Management

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