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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

How accurate is patients' anatomical knowledge: a cross-sectional, questionnaire study of six patient groups and a general public sample

John Weinman1*, Gibran Yusuf1, Robert Berks1, Sam Rayner1 and Keith J Petrie2

Author Affiliations

1 Health Psychology Section, Psychology Dept, Institute of Psychiatry, KCL, 5th floor Bermondsey Wing, Guy's Campus, London Bridge, London, SE1 9RT, UK

2 Department of Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand

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BMC Family Practice 2009, 10:43  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-43

Published: 12 June 2009



Older studies have shown that patients often do not understand the terms used by doctors and many do not even have a rudimentary understanding of anatomy. The present study was designed to investigate the levels of anatomical knowledge of different patient groups and the general public in order to see whether this has improved over time and whether patients with a specific organ pathology (e.g. liver disease) have a relatively better understanding of the location of that organ.


Level of anatomical knowledge was assessed on a multiple-choice questionnaire, in a sample of 722 participants, comprising approximately 100 patients in each of 6 different diagnostic groups and 133 in the general population, using a between-groups, cross-sectional design. Comparisons of relative accuracy of anatomical knowledge between the present and earlier results, and across the clinical and general public groups were evaluated using Chi square tests. Associations with age and education were assessed with the Pearson correlation test and one-way analysis of variance, respectively.


Across groups knowledge of the location of body organs was poor and has not significantly improved since an earlier equivalent study over 30 years ago (χ2 = 0.04, df = 1, ns). Diagnostic groups did not differ in their overall scores but those with liver disease and diabetes were more accurate regarding the location of their respective affected organs (χ2 = 18.10, p < 0.001, df = 1; χ2 = 10.75, p < 0.01, df = 1). Age was significantly negatively correlated (r = -0.084, p = 0.025) and education was positively correlated with anatomical knowledge (F = 12.94, p = 0.000). Although there was no overall gender difference, women were significantly better at identifying organs on female body outlines.


Many patients and general public do not know the location of key body organs, even those in which their medical problem is located, which could have important consequences for doctor-patient communication. These results indicate that healthcare professionals still need to take care in providing organ specific information to patients and should not assume that patients have this information, even for those organs in which their medical problem is located.