Portable ultrasound devices should become routine for disease diagnosis, according to a study by Northland doctors.
The authors say there is growing evidence that point-of-care ultrasound (PoCUS) is an accurate, cost effective and patient-acceptable tool to help physicians diagnose and treat ailments.
"Therefore, we suggest a novel approach to examining patients in internal medicine, combining only the most useful and evidence-based clinical signs with complementary PoCUS techniques," they said.
The study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, was conducted by William Diprose, Francois Verster and Cameron Schauer from the Northland District Health Board.
They said the art of physical examination had continued to be practised by physicians largely unchanged for more than 200 years.
"It is traditionally said to contribute between 10 and 20 percent of the final diagnosis," they said.
"However, many clinical signs are known to be unreliable."
When comparing students using portable ultrasound devices to experienced specialists performing physical examinations, the students consistently outperformed their superiors in diagnosing cardiac and other diseases.
Also, because the devices produced digital images, they could be integrated with the patient's electronic health record and shared to get a second opinion.
This increased the accuracy of diagnosis and reduced further investigations such as extra CT scans.
The authors said access to devices remained a barrier for many hospitals, although smartphone-based ones could cost as little as $199 a month.