Dr. Abraham Verghese comments on the impact of technology and how its excesses have come to impact how we interact with patients as we begin to rely more and more on what the monitor says and not what we see.
I remember having a lecture about clinical signs and symptoms on a variety of conditions. The lecturer at the time pointed out that while many of these things and the different signs named after different people were relevant, they were no longer as important.
"As our screening and tests improve, it will become much easier to simply request a test than to try to assess these signs," he explained. "These signs and techniques we use now are things that have been passed down from a time when tests like these were not available or not as good."
However, Dr. Verghese’s point in this article echoes what I felt in those sessions: these physical exams still matter as much or even more so than a scan or a test. When developing all of those clinical skills in the earlier parts of medical history, there was a reason they have survived this long and we continue to teach them. Their relevance is not something that can be eroded by technology because they are based on the human connection and the experiences we gain.
Technology can never replace the infinite complexities and subtleties of an experienced and observant clinician and his examining skills. Rather they should serve to complement and confirm what clinicians see holistically in the patient.