Over the years, the physical exam has continued to be a staple of medical education. Concerned with arming a generation of new physicians with skills to ‘fall back on’ if technology fails or to use completely if technology is unavailable, there has been a renewed emphasis on the physical exam. In many ways, the benefits of the physical exam are invaluable. Physical touch has a profound effect on helping us connect with our patients and build rapport. Some of the techniques offer information on the spot before we have a chance to send our patients down to a CT scanner or interpret their lab results. It adds minimal to no additional cost on top of the physician visit.
The problem is that the physical exam is outdated and was developed because we lacked insight into what was happening inside our patients’ bodies. Today, we have excellent tools with increasing portability. The MIT $100K entrepreneurship competition recently awarded the Thomas Reuters Data Prize to Augmented Medical Intelligence Labs (AugMI), a medical device company that develops “advanced tactile technology and data analytics to quantify, digitize and analyze important physical exam parameters in the setting of telemedicine.” The company was founded by Marc Succi, Andrew Bishara, and Fransiska Putri Wina Hadiwidjana, who all come from a mix of interdisciplinary backgrounds including robotics, mechanical engineering, computer science and medicine.
The company’s goal from the outset was to get back to the root of the physical exam and reintroduce the touch component into technology that is used to learn about the way our bodies work. Their product, the Glove Tricorder, allows for detection of blood pressure, pulse and oxygen saturation at the physician or even the patient’s own fingertips. It has the potential to improve the barrier that our current technologies create in the patient-physician relationship. In addition, the device is a unique and non-invasive approach to the quantified-self revolution in which patients can access their own vitals at home or the places they spend most of their time instead of in the hospital/clinic. The next steps include improving the data accuracy of the data collection and finding ways for sterilization.
What devices like the Glove Tricorder offer is an intuitive compromise to a growing concern that our technology has become too much of a barrier to traditionally practiced medicine. By fitting in with how we already do our physical exam (with the touch of our hands), a device like this could be more easily adopted by both physicians and patients. For future startups, it will be exciting to go beyond vitals. More advanced imaging modalities in particular, needs to be made more portable so that it can become the physical exam instead of being seeing as a competing technique.