On the first day of class, one of my medical school professors limped in, stopped, and then proceeded to teach us specifically what ailment a patient has that causes their limp.
He went on to explain, “By the time you finish this didactic course in orthopedics, you will be able to diagnose a patient’s problem just by watching them walk!”
At the beginning of each class, the professor would limp in and then show which muscle groups were affected, what caused the dysfunction, and how we might prepare our subsequent patient history.
The final exam involved the professor ambulating in front of the class with a limp, while we wrote down which muscles, ligaments, tendons, or bones were causing the limp and what the diagnoses might be.
To this day, I can tell, by observing their walk alone, if a patient has had a stroke, suffers from Parkinson’s disease, has had polio in the past, may have a side effect from medication, has arthritis of the knee or hip, or many other ailments.
How many of your doctors watch you walk? How many spend more than 10 to 15 minutes asking you questions? Medicine has changed, and so has the ability of doctors to make a diagnosis through simple observation.
Instead, they rely on technology to figure it out. “Let’s do an X-ray, get a blood test, or hope the insurance company will allow us to do a CT scan or MRI.” Simply observing might be a cheaper alternative.
Sometimes, one wonders why the public has diminished confidence in the medical profession. When my colleagues have been relegated by insurance companies, hospitals, and health care organizations to making a stethoscope a relic of the past, and the discussion between patients and doctors is limited to a few minutes, then all of us suffer.
I believe technology is helping the medical profession provide better health care to society. But when a doctor doesn’t have time to assess a patient’s ability to walk, my profession is literally out of step in benefiting those they serve.
Gene Uzawa Dorio is an internal medicine physician who blogs at SCV Physician Report.