Physical examination: bewitched, bothered and bewildered

Brendan M Reilly, Christopher A Smith and Brian P Lucas
Med J Aust 2005; 182 (8): . || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2005.tb06752.x
Published online: 18 April 2005

Next to nothing is known about physical findings’ impact on patient care

Young physicians today seem confused about physical examination. In the United States, many of them do not know how to do it and do not see why they should. Asymptomatic patients do not seem to need it; the US Preventive Services Task Force found insufficient evidence to recommend periodic physical examination of the breast, prostate, heart or anything else. Sick patients do not seem to benefit much from it either, most of them tested to death regardless of their physical findings. It is hard to say which is the chicken or the egg here, but physical diagnosis instruction in many US medical schools now is either out of date (emeritus faculty members teaching useless arcana like percussion of Traube’s space), out of touch (junior faculty members making rounds in a conference room, not at the bedside), or both.

  • Department of Medicine, Cook County Hospital, Chicago, USA.


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