A routine health exam might seem like a simple procedure, but there is a lot of complex technology that goes into one, from digital scales to the software that stores and updates all of a patient’s information. The following are five of the more common but essential medical tools that are used during your average physical health exam.
1. Medical Weighing Scale
The weighing scale has been around for a long time, evolving from its most primitive form – the balance – all the way to the high tech digital scales that are most commonly employed in today’s routine health exams. Digital medical scales provide the most accurate readings, and many are equipped to calculate the patient’s Body Mass Index (BMI), which saves doctors and nurses time that they would otherwise have to spend calculating this crucial health indicator.
A sphygmomanometer is the device doctors or nurses use to gauge a person’s blood pressure. You’ve probably seen it before. It consists of an inflatable rubber cuff that goes around the patient’s arm and serves to restrict blood flow, and a (usually mercury) manometer that measures pressure. When the sphygmomanometer is used, the patient is ideally in a seated position, and the cuff is placed around the arm roughly at the same vertical height as the patient’s heart, with the patient’s arm comfortably supported on the table or armrest. When the rubber cuff inflates, it constricts the arteries, cutting off blood-flow. When the cuff is released, blood starts flowing again and the doctor/nurse can listen via a stethoscope.
Portable finger blood pressure monitors also exist and they are equipped with an automatic inflation feature. They are easy to use and space-saving, but their accuracy is not quite up to par with the manual sphygmomanometers that use mercury. Mercury manometers are still considered the most accurate and trusted blood pressure gauges, not just for their precise measurements but also because they need no recalibration.
The stethoscope is one of the most well-known and widely-used medical tools in a doctor’s inventory. In fact, stethoscopes have become iconic symbols of the medical profession. They allow doctors and nurses to listen to a patient’s internal organs and blood pressure, which is crucial in detecting any abnormalities that might need attention.
The history of the stethoscope dates back to 19th century France, where the physician Rene Laennec first invented it and used it to diagnose various chest conditions. Laennec’s stethoscope resembled a common ear trumpet, which was sometimes called a “microphone” in those days. Though its design was rudimentary, it did the job.
The modern version of the stethoscope that we know today wasn’t invented until the 1940s, when Rappaport and Sprague designed a listening device consisting of two sides, one for the cardiovascular system and one for the respiratory system.
4. Aural Thermometer
The aural thermometer (also called “ear thermometer” or “tympanic thermometer) is a small but useful tool used to quickly and accurately measure a patient’s body temperature. The aural thermometer works because the eardrum is one of the best points from which to measure temperature, as it is recessed inside the head. Because the eardrum is so fragile though (and thus cannot be touched), aural thermometers use remote sensing technology to measure temperature. More precisely, the aural thermometer detects the ear drum’s infrared emissions and converts them into temperature measurements that are then displayed on a digital screen.
The ophthalmoscope is used to examine the interior of a patient’s eye, including the retina, the optic nerve and the lens. Your basic clinical ophthalmoscope contains a battery powered light, a concave mirror, and a single monocular eye piece through which the nurse or doctor will look in order to examine the patient’s eye. The ophthalmoscope is also equipped with a series of different lenses which can be rotated into place so that the doctor/nurse can examine the patient’s eye at varying degrees of depth and magnification.
The invention of the first ophthalmoscope is often credited to the German physician and inventor Hermann von Helmholtz, who came up with the basic principle of the ophthalmoscope in 1850, using cardboard, glue, and glass microscope plates. However, a few years before Helmholtz’s invention, in 1823, the physician Johannes Purkinje was using his own device to observe the back of the human eye, and Charles Babbage created an ophthalmoscope similar to Helmholtz in 1847.