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Verghese: However Digitized, Doctoring Must Remain Hands-On

High on nytimes.com’s most-emailed list today is a typically beautiful piece by the author and doctor Abraham Verghese, lamenting the loss of bedside examination skills as medicine becomes ever more computerized.

This computer record creates what I call an “iPatient” — and this iPatient threatens to become the real focus of our attention, while the real patient in the bed often feels neglected, a mere placeholder for the virtual record.

Imaging the body has become so easy (and profitable, too, if you own the machine). When I was an intern some 30 years ago, about three million CT scans were performed annually in the United States; now the number is more like 80 million. Imaging tests are now responsible for half of the overall radiation Americans are exposed to, compared with about 15 percent in 1980.

With that radiation exposure comes increasing risk for cancer, but what worries me even more is that this ease of ordering a scan has caused doctors’ most basic skills in examining the body to atrophy. Continue reading