In order to perform a medical symptom diagnosis, practicing physicians construct a thorough medical history and perform a physical examination. Mastery of these two techniques constitutes the essence of physical diagnosis. Data gathering takes time and effort, frustrates, and becomes tedious, but it is the cornerstone of the practice of medicine.
While taking a patient’s history, the physician elicits the patient’s symptoms, including the subjective sensation of events that characterize the patient’s disease. History constructing is, therefore, very much dependent on good communication between physician and patient.
During the physical exam, the physician looks for signs of disease, manifested by abnormality of structure and function. Information gathered during the history directs the physician to the system(s) that must be examined most carefully and thoroughly.
Without constructing a history and performing a physical examination, a physician is at a loss as to where to begin his or her quest to help the patient. In recent years, many have challenged the importance of physical diagnosis because they feel that modern technological advances in medicine have made this modality less accurate in some areas of investigation.
However, a careful history and physical examination will determine where the problem is so that the practicing physician can order appropriate technological studies (e.g. chemical tests, biological tests, CT (computer tomography) scans, MRIs (magnetic resonance imagings), biopsies, or other studies). Not every patient can receive every single form of testing every time he or she sees a doctor. In addition, practicing physicians do not have every test or study instantaneously available to them in their offices.