The Physical Exam Remains an Effective Tool for Physicians

A new study published in the Annals of Family Medicine highlights the necessity of the physical exam in medicine concluding that “it not only contributes diagnostic information but is a therapeutic intervention in and of itself.” In the paper, Family Physicians’ Experiences of Physical Examination, Martina Kelly, Lisa Freeman and Tim Dornan explain the two key factors that reinforce why the physical exam remains an integral part of medicine:

·       From a gnostic standpoint, the study found that the physical exam is essential for making accurate diagnoses. The authors cite physician testimonials referring to the physical exam as an instrumental aspect of care because it allows providers to identify abnormalities specific to certain conditions. Kelly, Freeman and Dornan also cited evidence about the relationship between declining physical exam skills among medical school graduates and the increasing likelihood of misdiagnosis.

·       Subjectively, the researchers describe the physical exam as a “form of nonverbal communication within doctor-patient relationships that promotes rapport and trust.” They explain that the physical exam remains “a cornerstone of medicine” because it is “a privileged human interaction within an age-old tradition of laying on hands.” Without the examination, the authors believe this connection will be lost.

The researchers say recent discussion on the “utility of physical examination in contemporary clinical practice” inspired them to explore its current value in patient care. At a time when artificial intelligence is transforming medicine, we believe the opportunity lies in a synergy between technology and the physical exam and agree when Kelly, Freeman and Dornan describe the optimal outcome as one that combines “the science and art of clinical practice” into patient care.


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