Anyone who’s ever had a gynaecological examination will likely testify that the very sight of the speculum heading towards your nether regions is enough to give you the smear fear.
For those not in the know (or without a vagina), a speculum is the apparatus used to help hinge open the vagina for examination. (Anyone clenching right now?)
As it stands at the moment it’s a pretty intimidating piece of equipment. Made of cold metal (or plastic) it comprises of two rounded blades, that use a screw mechanism to help lift and separate the vaginal walls so your doctor or nurse can get a better view to be able to examine you.
But, in news that is sure to excite women everywhere, the humble speculum could soon be getting a major reboot.
A team at Frog, a San Francisco-based design firm, have been trying to reimagine the out-dated medical device and turn it into something that isn’t quite so cold and, er, crank-y.
The speculum project, which was announced this week, came about when two of the firm’s designers went in for their annual gynaecology visit, which included a smear test.
Having discussed their experiences, which one of the women described as “anxiety-inducing”, the colleagues began talking about what they could do to improve it, starting with the old-fashioned speculum.
“We wanted to humanise the whole experience,” Sahana Kumar told Fortune.
After enlisting a handful of other female employees, interviewing patients and researching the history of the speculum, the colleagues got to work on giving it a modern makeover.
Interestingly, the current design of the speculum, fashioned by American physician James Marion Sims, actually dates back to the 1840s. But apart from a few tweaks, today’s speculum looks almost identical to the one used more than 150 years ago.
The most noticeable difference between the original device and the one used in smear tests today is that instead of pewter, modern specula are made of stainless steel or plastic.
So a reboot is long overdue.
Even the healthcare professionals who use the speculum agree it could do with some tweaking – for example, the speculum is currently angled at 90 degrees, which makes it difficult for the patient to be positioned correctly on an examination table.
With this in mind, the Frog team designed a new forward-thinking device that could be angled at 105 degrees instead of 90, had a push handle instead of a screw mechanism, a button that opens three “leaves” to open up the vagina.
But perhaps the most important change was the use of surgical silicone to coat the speculum. Bye bye cold metal!
Sadly, the shiny, new speculum, known as ‘Yona’, won’t be popping up in our smear tests any time soon. At the moment, though there is a prototype, Yona is just a concept, but Frog is hoping to find a medical device partner to help fund and manufacture the project.
And the new speculum could have an impact on encouraging more women to attend their cervical smear tests.
According to research Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust – the UK’s only dedicated cervical cancer charity, 51 per cent of women eligible to attend smear appointments have admitted to delaying or skipping their smear tests, with almost one quarter admitting they postponed their appointment for over a year and almost one in ten revealing they’ve never even attended one.
Reasons for not attending include worrying it would be embarrassing, painful, feeling uncomfortable removing clothing, body confidence issues and worrying how their genitals might look.
But smear tests save 5,000 lives a year in the UK and prevent a staggering 75 per cent of cervical cancers from developing.
So props to Frog for at least trying to tackle one of those smear fears, because anything that can be done to encourage women to attend their gynaecological examinations has got to be a good thing.
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