Stanford Medicine 25 Blog

Clinical Medicine Article by Dr. Andy Elder

A member of our Stanford 25 team, Dr. Andy Elder, recently published his thoughts about his visiting professorship to Stanford last year. Dr. Elder is now the Medical Director of the MRCP(UK) examination​, one part of which is the PACES​ bedside skills examination – ​which, with ​5,000 candidates sitting per year in ​fifteen​ countries around the world, ​is​ the largest international postgraduate clinical skills assessment in the world. In this article he shares his views on the importance of the bedside exam. He also discusses how a ​​physical skills assessment, unlike what we have in the US, is paramount towards ensuring our future doctors are adequately trained.

“The continuing existence of a high-stakes clinical examination such as PACES sends a powerful message to the public – that the profession of medicine still values the ability to assess a patient by talk and touch. And by abandoning such examinations and institutionalising the erroneous belief that assessments of knowledge will ensure that doctors possess all the attributes that patients deserve, bedside clinical skills are systematically and explicitly devalued, neither taught nor learned, and destined to be lost.” Dr. Andy Elder


The Birth of Percussion

It should come to no surprise to us that the invention of percussion came from the mind of a musician. Leopold Auenbrugger was a physician, but he was also a composer who wrote an opera for an Austrian empress. However the coming together of music and medicine had its origins in watching his father tap on the side of wine barrels to determine their contents.

In medical school, he studied at Leyden with a formal pupil of Herman Boerhaave, graduating in 1752. He was an excellent student and for his thesis wrote on the aphorisms of Hippocrates. After working in an unpaid post at the Spanish Hospital, and then climbing the ladder to Attending Physician, he resigned in 1762 from working in hospitals.

In a text called Inventum Novum published in 1761, or A New Discovery that Enables the Physician from the Percussion of the Human Thorax to Detect the Diseases Hidden Within the Chest, he explained the very idea of percussing the chest. One passage reads, “For in truth, through these techniques a sound is perceived either higher or lower or more or less clear or even almost stifled.”

He described the sound of the lung in various scenarios, but instead of this technique being well received, he was charged with plagiarism! Since Hippocrates had described the succussion splash, the pleural rub, Auenbugger was accused of copying from Hippocrates. However, this was not the case. Indeed, Auenbrugger was first to percuss the chest in normal and abnormal variants and to use percussion formally in physical diagnosis.

He wrote,

“What I have written, I have proved again and again by the testimony of my own senses and amid laborious and tedious exertions; still guarding, on all occasions, against the seductive influence of self-love.”

Although his work might have never been recognized, he was fortunate that during his lifetime, Corvisart, who was Napoleon’s physician, found the work and popularized it.



Cummins, S. L. (1945). Auenbrugger and Laennec: The Discoverers of Percussion and Auscultation. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 38(8), 409–412.

Leopold Auenbrugger’s Inventum Novum. (1923). JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 80(8), 576. doi:10.1001/jama.1923.02640350058042

Smith, J. J. (1962). The Inventum Novum of Joseph Leopold Auenbrugger. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 38(10), 691–701.

The Internet: The Elephant in the Examination Room

Damiana Andonova

Peter Conrad, a sociologist at Brandeis University, spoke of the rise and fall of the medical authority in the doctor patient office encounter in his many scholarly articles. With the internet becoming the “elephant in the doctor’s office,” the dynamic of medical authority has certainly changed.

As the internet evolves into a virtual space for communities and patients to disclose personal medical information and seek sustenance and support from one another (preemie parent communities, pregnant mom  communities, Parkinson’s groups, cancer groups, dermatology forums, etc.), how does a clinician negotiate his/her medical expertise and the information available on the internet that their patients have brought to their exam table?

The advantages of the internet are many—its ability to accumulate and disseminate information, its ability to provide a platform to connect and share medical experiences, and of course its potential to store health records, improve accessibility, and improve patient education. But, its use also raises issues of privacy, misuse of medical information to self-diagnose, and misleading medical information.

“Internet-induced hypochondriasis” is not un-heard of. We all know of patients who’ve googled their symptoms and rushed to their health practitioner the following day. We should not hold them in contempt of getting their medical advice from WebMD. Instead, we should applaud them for their initiative to take part of their health care, for their enterprise and interest to learn about their condition, for their correct intuition to follow up with their physicians.

While the internet can raise serious issues that merit attention, the internet has also provided patients a means connect to physicians and to learn more how to care for their condition. Consider the many Google searches for diabetes friendly recipes, how to talk to a sick relative, and how to keep a low FODMAP diet. The internet, in other words, illustrates the demand for patient education and it is up to clinicians to take initiative to offer just that.

Most certainly, the bedside is a great place to start that discussion. Instead of letting the internet become the elephant in the room, the physical exam can allow the clinician to negotiate medical authority. The mother of the pediatric heart patient has no doubt become the leading expert on her child’s heart condition, but, perhaps, it is the pediatrician’s evolving role to not only examine, and coordinate care for her child, but also help the parent navigate through the wealth of information that is literally available with the tap of the index finger


Abraham Verghese Interviews with Medscape’s Eric Topol

The leader of our Stanford 25 program, Abraham Verghese, recently sat down with Medscape’s Editor-In-Chief, Eric Topol. This interview was part a number of popular videos for a Medscape’s One-On-One series that is newly published today. In the video, Dr. Verghese discusses his early years, upcoming book and talks about his career path to becoming a physician and writer. Click here or the picture to be taken to the full video and transcript.


Stanford 25 Website Passes One Million Visitors!


The purpose of the Stanford 25 is more than teaching the physical exam. The original calling that brought us all to medicine, and to the care of the sick resides to such a large degree in connecting with the patient, and in the interaction at the bedside. It is both important to the patient, and an enduring source of satisfaction to us as practitioners.

With over one million unique visitors (and over 1,360,000 total visits) to our website alone, we want to thank everyone for their support. Together with the collaboration of Stanford faculty and others abroad (including internationally), we will continue to grow. This year, we will be expanding the “25” to include many more topics (while keeping our name the same). Please keep visiting our website, YouTube channel, and social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, Google+)

Interview with Dr. Eric Topol (editor-in-chief of Medscape)

The editor-in-chief of Medscape, Dr. Eric Topol, visited Stanford to sit down and do an interview with our Dr. Vergese for the Medscape One-on-One online video series. During this visit I got to meet with him to ask him a few questions. Dr. Topal is a cardiologist, geneticist and researcher. He has also been a key player in wireless medicine since it began.

abe and Eric

Dr. Ozdalga: Hi Dr. Topol, Thank you for speaking with me today. The first question I have for you is: What is your take on the new changes in technology and how it affects patient care? What are your thoughts on things we’ll see in the future regarding patient care as technology improves?

Dr. Topol: Well,  I think the biggest thing is that the tools that we’ve used to do the physical exam haven’t lost their primacy and importance, but the tools that we use now are so much more capable. So whether it’s being able to do things with a smartphone or using a pocket ultrasound, those sorts of things, it’s really revamped our approach to the exam. And it could revamp a lot of unnecessary sophisticated imaging.

The other big thing is of course the virtual contacts, and they’re really increasing exponentially. To the point that by the end of this year it’s projected one out of six doctor visits will be virtual; and that is really indicative of the shake-up that’s occurring in medicine.

So the question: We’re not really ready for virtual medicine, we’re not ready for the patients to do the physical exam and have it sent electronically. We have to gear up for that, that’s a whole different type of training and it’s going to become more commonplace. There still will always be a need for physical office visits, but these are for the more routine things like, for example, a child with an ear infection. Obviously many things can be done remotely that don’t require the physical visit.

Dr. Ozdalga: As you know Dr. Verghese and the Stanford 25’s main emphasis is not only the physical exam, but connecting with the patient. How do you feel that changes with the virtual patient? Will it affect the ability for doctors to connect with them?

Dr. Topol: Well, I think the connection will actually be exquisite, because now the patients will feel much more activated. They’re really going to be integral to this whereas before they were in another orbit. So technology can actually paradoxically bring things closer. I like to use the portable ultrasound as an example because I now show the patient their scan in real time whereas before they couldn’t even get the result! They would call and beg “what did my test show?” So to be able to show it and share it in real time is actually an intimacy. They’re still touching the patient, doing the exam, but you’re sharing very impressive information whether it be sensors or whether it be imaging, and the patient really enjoys it.

Dr. Ozdalga: Beautiful. It’s been said that the physical exam and the art of the exam is dying, and a big reason for that is because of technology. Do you agree with that?

Dr. Topol: No, I actually think the physical exam is as important as ever, but it’s just a different physical exam. It’s using technology integrated with the exam, it’s also being able to interpret physical exams that are not done physically. Some of the parts can be done by the patient. So it’s a different look but it’s more important than ever before.

Dr. Ozdalga: Thanks so much Dr. Topol, this has been really great.

Errol Ozdalga MD
(Transcription by Serena Brown)

Dr. Topol interviewing Dr. Verghese for the Medscape Medscape One-on-One online video series.

Do You Know How to Measure an Ankle Brachial Index?

The ankle brachial index (ABI) is a common and useful exam in the outpatient setting to detect peripheral arterial disease. ABI’s should be measured in all people over the age of 50 if they are a diabetic or a smoker. It should also be checked in patients over the age of 60.

While many doctors simply order this test, we show you how to quickly measure the ABI yourself with a doppler and blood pressure cuff. Visit our page on ABI here and watch the video below to learn how to measure an ABI on your own!



The History of Bedside Ultrasound: From Submarines to Sub-Interns

By Michael Vogel

Among the myriad of modern diagnostic tools, few can claim the certainty, consistency, and intimacy of ultrasound. In contrast to other dominant types of medical imaging characterized by large, foreign machines and uncomfortable noise and positioning, this sound-based imaging technique is one of the least intimidating and widely-used exam method, applied in fields ranging from Pulmonology and Gastroenterology to Obstetrics and Gynecology. However, conventional ultrasound can trace its roots to a form of militarized SONAR developed heavily in the period between World War I and II. Prototypes of “Ultrasonic Metal Flaw Detectors”, developed in tandem by Soviet scientist Sergei Y Sokolov and American engineer Floyd A Firestone in the early 1930s were used as an alternative to conventional RADAR methods for detecting submerged vehicles. These tools used short, high-frequency ultrasonic pulses to measure imperfections in the cast metal bodies of submarines, and their application in therapeutic medicine was simultaneously explored by American physicians. During a period stretching from the mid-1930s to the late- 1940s, ultrasound technology was used to perform a primitive form of craniotomy, by using high-frequency pulses to destroy parts of the brain. Additionally, this homeopathic application of ultrasound attempted to treat in patients with Parkinsonism, as well as other illnesses that include rheumatism, carcinomatosis, eczema, urinary incontinence, and elephantiasis. In fact, ultrasound wasn’t considered a diagnostic method until October of 1949 with the publishing of the “June ’49 Report” by George Ludwig. Since then, ultrasound has matured into “medical sonography”, and has expanded to become the primary diagnostic method for identifying the size, location, and pathology of muscles, tendons, and most internal organs.


At Stanford Hospital, as well as many other prominent medical facilities worldwide, the use of bedside ultrasound is an essential tool in the repertoire of a hospitalist. Conventionally defined, Bedside Ultrasound refers to “a limited ultrasound examination performed at the bedside by the treating physician to answer specific clinical questions”. While bedside ultrasound originated in the quick decision-making of E.R. Physicians, it has now also found a home in internal medicine. Physicians use ultrasound to estimate central venous pressure through visualization of the inferior vena cava, estimate left ventricular function with limited echo, assess abnormalities in the lungs, evaluate the presence of ascites and pleural effusions, and to assist with procedures. As part of the physical exam, bedside ultrasound gives the opportunity to foster the physician-patient relationship. The Stanford Medicine 25 team provides informative resources that explore the depth of ultrasound technique, from the proper placement of the transducer to motions and technique that maximize diagnostic efficiency while minimizing patient discomfort. Ultrasound technology, with its rich history and varied application remains today as one of the most widely-utilized assisted-examination techniques, and is a fantastic way to integrate imaging technology into a comprehensive and patient-forward physical exam.

P.S: Some facilities warm their ultrasound gel before applying it on a patient’s body. This action serves no diagnostic purpose and is purely for the patient’s comfort, a philosophy we could extend to our physical exams as well!



The Babinski Sign

By Michael Vogel

Among the key players in the neurological revolution of the early 19th Century, few may claim as much lasting relevance as Jean-Martin Charcot. Lending his eponym to phenomena such as Charcot’s Joint (diabetic arthropathy), Charcot’s Triad (acute cholangitis) and most notably Charcot’s Disease (ALS), the French physician is widely considered to be a progenitor of modern neuroscience and psychology. However, one of Charcot’s most influential contributions to medicine is that of his protégé and contemporary, Joseph Babinski. Coming to professional fruition in 1893, Babinski is credited with the analysis and identification of several neuroses, including a peculiar diagnostic cue bearing his name today. First identified in a 26-line short form presentation at the 1896 Société de Biologie meeting, Babinski’s Sign became one of the neurologist’s most notable discoveries, and remains an invaluable resource for the modern practicing physician today.


Babinski’s sign is a neuro-pathological cue embedded within the Plantar Reflex of the foot. Elicited by a blunt stimulus to the sole of the foot, the normal adult Plantar Reflex presents as a downward flexion of the toes toward the source of the stimulus. Babinski’s sign is observed when the Hallux (big toe) exhibits dorsal extension in response to the same plantar stimulation. While a response similar to the sign exists when the plantar reflex is elicited in infants, Presence of Babinski’s sign in adults can be indicative of a lesion or damage in the corticospinal tract, and identification of the sign remains one of the least-invasive methods for supporting an Upper Motor Neuron damage diagnosis. The sign became such an integral part of neurological doctrine that Babinski’s prototype reflex hammer, developed in 1912, became one of the essential tools of a modern neurologist. Even to this day, modern neurological examination textbooks refer to Babinski’s sign as “the most colorful exam finding in neurology”. All in all, Babinski’s sign and similar examinations of the plantar reflex (Chaddock sign, Cornell sign) are fond reminders of the utility of a comprehensive physical exam and that, with proper care and attention to detail, a physician can make confident diagnostic choices using simple, concise, and interactive methods.





Goetz CG (2009). “Chapter 15 Jean-Martin Charcot and the anatomo-clinical method of neurology”. Handb Clin Neurol. Handbook of Clinical Neurology 95: 203–12. doi:10.1016/S0072-9752(08)02115-5. ISBN 978-0-444-52009-8. PMID 19892118.

Goetz CG (2002). “History of the extensor plantar response: Babinski and Chaddock signs”. Seminars in neurology 22 (4): 391–8. doi:10.1055/s-2002-36761. PMID 12539060.

Campbell, W. W., & DeJong, R. N. (2013). DeJong’s The neurologic examination (7th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott.

On Chekhov: The Marriage of Medicine and Literature

By Damiana Andonova


Anton Chekhov, Russian physician-playwright from Tagranog, must have written about more than a hundred physician characters in his literary career. They’ve appeared in plays from Platonov to The Three Sisters and many short stories. Each character is unique, variable in personality, in medical attitude, and method. What caricatures: the pompous speaker, the narcissist, the genius, the devout healer, the scatter-brained, boorish feldsher!

Students of literature are regularly reminded of Chekhov’s gun; his contributions to the literary world are many. By 1886, he had already found fame in St. Petersburg and beyond. But, what of him as a physician?

He practiced medicine during most of his literary career but officially retired from the medical profession in 1889. Despite this, he continued to provide free care in Melikhovo and often dabbled in public health initiatives. But what is perhaps most attractive about his medical career is how he bridged medicine and literature. He is quoted saying,

“Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature my mistress.”

His fascination with medicine, he unreservedly explored in his literature. To say that he created over a hundred fictitious physicians is perhaps only a small testament to his interest in unpacking the medical profession through literary means. He also used his medical competency to richly write about tuberculosis in “Late Blooming Flowers”, typhus in “Typhus”, and many other evocative scenes of medically urgent occasions. His dark descriptions, often besotted with reflection over medical attitudes explains why he wrote such aphorisms:

“People who have an official, professional relation to other men’s sufferings, for instance—judges, police officers, doctors—in course of time, grow so callous, that they cannot, even if they wish it, take any but a formal attitude to their clients, in this respect they are not different from the peasant who slaughters sheep and calves in the backyard, and does not notice the blood”
–Anton Chekhov in Ward No. # 6.

His storytelling, fabled to have been inherited from his storytelling mother, Yevgeniya, is powerful, evocative, and thought-provoking to say the least. His works merit a spot on a physician’s reading list, even if he did write of medicine practiced centuries ago.

Chekhov, A. P. (2002). Ward No. 6 and other stories, 1892-1895. London ; New York: Penguin.
Coulehan, J. (2003). Chekhov’s doctors: a collection of Chekhov’s medical tales. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press.
Teuber, A. (n.d.). Anton Chekhov Biography. Retrieved June 24, 2014, from