Stillwater News Press

Our World

July 25, 2013

Smartphones may make physical exams easier

As my attending physician walked in with the next patient, I quickly stuffed my iPhone into my pocket. There was a strict "no cellphone" policy in the pediatric clinic where I was working as a third-year medical student. If my attending had caught me, I would have received a stern lecture about how cellphones were not to be used while patients were in the room.

We proceeded to examine the patient, a young boy named Tim, who had an earache. As part of the routine physical exam, I used my otoscope — a device first described in 1363 — to examine Tim's eardrum. Unfortunately, it was difficult to see the characteristic cone-shaped membrane. The more I maneuvered the otoscope, the more Tim yelped in pain. I finally gave up and admitted that I couldn't find the eardrum. Tim had been subjected to enough agony, and we sent him home with a course of antibiotics for a presumed ear infection. My attending later confessed that after 10 years of practicing, she still sometimes had trouble seeing the eardrum.

I remembered Tim's eardrum when reading the 2013 program of TEDMED, an annual conference in Washington showcasing the most promising medical advances in the country. A medical technology blog that I write for had organized an exhibit called "The Smartphone Physical" to showcase smartphone apps — many of them already commercially available - that doctors could use in a physical. As part of the exhibit, the team used CellScope, a mobile phone attachment to show attendees a picture-perfect magnification of their inner ear canal - much clearer than I'd seen with my otoscope.

I recently mentioned the device to a pediatrician. "That'll be the day," she replied.

Many doctors share her skepticism of smartphones in medicine. Less than half of attending physicians in a recent survey reported using smartphones for patient care. Many doctors worry that these technologies will hurt their relationships with patients. In a 2012 essay in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Georgetown University physician Caroline Wellbery warned that "these devices deprive us of the very essence of presence. . . . We may be surrendering our capacity to be in the moment."

But what if these technologies not only make physicians' physical exams easier but also improve our interactions with patients? Smartphones can offer doctors a more reliable exam while increasing patient involvement in their care. Within the next decade, the smartphone physical might replace the traditional physical exam. Even now, the long-standing "routine physical" may no longer be so routine.

The traditional physical exam may be overrated when it comes to picking up diseases. A chest exam done as part of a physical, for instance, has been found to pick up only half of all pneumonias. A study found that stethoscopes wielded by young doctors correctly identified only one-fifth of previously diagnosed heart conditions.

So while the traditional physical exam may be hands-on, it's probably time to find ways to improve it; to me, smartphones offer that possibility.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Our World
Must Read
Buy & Share Photos
NewsPress e-Edition
NewsPress Specials
AP Video
Renewed Violence Taking Toll on Gaza Residents 2 Americans Detained in North Korea Seek Help US Employers Add 209K Jobs, Rate 6.2 Pct House GOP Optimistic About New Border Bill Gaza Truce Unravels; Israel, Hamas Trade Blame Raw: Tunisia Closes Borders With Libya Four Rescued From Crashed Plane Couple Channel Grief Into Soldiers' Retreat WWI Aviation Still Alive at Aerodrome in NY Raw: Rescuers at Taiwan Explosion Scene Raw: Woman Who Faced Death Over Faith in N.H. Clinton Before 9-11: Could Have Killed Bin Laden Netanyahu Vows to Destroy Hamas Tunnels Obama Slams Republicans Over Lawsuit House Leaders Trade Blame for Inaction
Stocks
NDN Video
Under Armour Launches Biggest Women's Campaign with Inspiring Ad NYPD chokehold death of Eric Garner was homicide: medical examiner Christina Aguilera Pulls a Demi Moore! Man with no arms throws first pitch Chapter Two: Composing for a film in retirement Is Justin Bieber Dating a Model? Guardians of the Galaxy (Trailer) 'Sharknado 2:' Hottest Memes Surfing The Net Snoop Dogg Narrating Animal Footage Is Perfect Raw: Obama Gets Hug From Special Olympian Recapping a Blockbuster MLB Trade Deadline Tigers Acquire David Price - @TheBuzzeronFOX Russell Brand Slams Sean Hannity Over Gaza Conflict Segment Woman's Dive Goes Terribly Wrong Brian Williams Reports on Daughter Allison Williams' 'Peter Pan' Casting News Did Jimmy Fallon Look Up Heidi Klum's Dress? What Drama? Miranda Kerr Poses Topless Plane crashes in San Diego Costco parking lot Justin Bieber Takes To Instagram To Diss Orlando Bloom You Won't Believe the Celeb Cameos in "Sharknado 2"