September 25, 2010

The Power of Touch

In an interview with NPR, doctors discuss the rebirth of the physical exam; check out the story here.

It sights scary statistics like: "One recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined stethoscope skills of various kinds among 453 practicing physicians and 88 medical students. Whatever their age or experience, the doctors correctly recognized only 20 percent of heart problems."

The physical exam can be awkward, especially if you aren't quite sure what you're looking for (or you can tell that your physician isn't quite sure) and it often takes a lot longer than getting your blood drawn for labs. But I agree with many of the doctors cited in the interview that there is just so much we can learn from actually engaging with someone.

Perhaps the most important part is explained by Abraham Verghese, physician/writer extraordinaire:

"If you look at the physician exam –- one individual coming to another, telling them things they would not tell their spouse or rabbi or priests, and then, incredibly, disrobing and allowing touch, I think our skills in examining a patient have to be worthy of that kind of trust."

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