Sense and Sense-ability: The Artful Science of Hands-on Medicine

Listening to lung sounds, feeling the pulse, observing posture and gait-these are just a few of the examinations that doctors perform on their patients. A physical exam exists for every organ, from the brain to the bones of the feet, each carried out with the physician’s senses. For thousands of years, humans had been solely responsible for this exam ritual, until the emergence of diagnostic equipment-CT scans, MRI scans, ultrasounds, echocardiograms, mammograms, and more. In some cases, these devices replaced the physical exam. But in areas of the world where technology is unavailable, and even in places where it exists, many physicians and healthcare professionals cannot or will not to cede their tasks to tools. Their goal: to maintain an environment in which technology and the learned senses can coexist; an environment in which the physical exam remains an integral part of medicine.

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