Knowledge of medical conditions and their evidence-based medications varies among individuals. This range of knowledge may affect attitudes and influence medical decision-making of both patients and providers. Perceptions may be even more impactful in pregnancy, a timeframe subject to bias, and in diseases that include behavioral symptoms and often carry significant societal stigma, such as opioid use disorder (OUD). We present our findings from a survey assessing participants’ knowledge of three distinct medical conditions (diabetes mellitus, bipolar disorder, and OUD) and how this knowledge affects perceptions of these disease states during pregnancy.
Using existing surveys in the literature as a guideline, we designed a cross-sectional survey including multiple-choice questions to evaluate our hypothesis that less knowledge about a medical condition would result in more negative opinions towards that condition and its treatment throughout pregnancy. Participants responded to perception statements using a 5-point Likert scale (1 = “strongly disagree,” 5 = “strongly agree”). Surveys were administered to patients in prenatal care, patients in OUD treatment, medical students, and medical residents within a single institution. Response means were generated and compared using t tests and ANOVA.
A total of 323 participants completed the survey. There were differences in knowledge between respondent groups and by disease state, with prenatal patients having the least knowledge of all groups about OUD diagnosis (88.5% of prenatal patients answered correctly) and its treatment (91.8% answered correctly). Overall Likert means of all responses demonstrated that participants agreed that new mothers with OUD (mean 4.27, 5 = “strongly agree”) and their babies (4.12) would have challenges that others would not, compared to mothers with bipolar disorder (4.03) and their babies (3.60) as well as mothers with diabetes (3.87) and their babies (3.47), p < .001. Overall, respondents were likely to agree that women with OUD should not try to get pregnant (3.47), whereas they overall disagreed with that statement when it pertained to women with bipolar disorder (2.69, 2 = “disagree”) or diabetes (2.12), p = 0.03.
With this single-center study, we found that, though there were gaps in knowledge regarding disease and disease treatment during pregnancy, less knowledge was not associated with more negative perceptions of disease and disease treatment during pregnancy. Perceptions were especially negative toward pregnant women with OUD. Increasing awareness of lived experiences of patients with disease, as well as the biases carried by both patients and providers, could improve treatment of chronic diseases and outcomes for patients.