Take a Look at This
By Douglas R. Briggs, DC, Dipl. Ac. (IAMA), DAAPM, EMT
Many times when a patient presents for care, they have a specific problem they want to address. Most chiropractors I know will often take a "whole-person" approach and also address other less-symptomatic findings in other parts of the body (such as adjusting an ankle for a lower back problem or working with the neck to treat carpal tunnel symptoms). I have shared in the past that treating other areas beyond the area of complaint can be reasonable and appropriate, but that care must be validated. The constantly evolving health care system in which we operate is overtly symptom focused, so there must be a logical process clearly documented for seemingly remote or unrelated care.
Don't Forget to Observe
In that mindset, it falls on the practitioner to be vigilant when evaluating the patient. Palpation, goading and orthopedic testing are all important elements of the exam – but don't forget to keep your eyes open and just observe the patient:
When the patient is on the examination table, observe the following for potential dysfunction / issues:
Take the Time to Do a General Inspection
In many cases this has become a lost component of examination, but take the time to just "look over" your patient. On a number of occasions, patients have denied any surgical history – until I asked them, for example, about that vertical scar over their lower lumbars. "Oh yeah, I had a lumbar discectomy, but I forgot about that." Patients are not always the most reliable historians, so it doesn't hurt to take a few seconds to get a general impression.
I should also note here that observation is a key component to assessing malingering in a patient – when their complaints do not correlate with their objective behaviors or actions. When dealing with the feigning or malingering patient, careful observation and accurate documentation are critical.
Another gold nugget tucked away in Hoppenfeld's text is looking at the fingers and nails. He notes that the general condition and color of the fingernails can sometimes indicate serious pathologic problems and should not be overlooked during inspection. Normal nails are pink in color and should be in good condition, neither pitted nor split. The lunula (the little crescent-shaped moon at the nail base) should be white.
There is much that can be learned about a patient from simple observation. For more information, there are a number of texts that focus entirely on body assessment through observation. [See the resource list at the end of this article.] The body is a wonderful dynamic; the more we can observe and interpret, the more accurate and focused we can provide care. As always, remember to completely and clearly document your findings, correlate with the patient's case history, and logically outline your care plan. These extra notes help document the severity of the patient's complaints and can then show the progressive response to care. This extra documentation can also help make the difference if you must justify your diagnosis to an insurer or third party. Take the extra few seconds to add this practice into your exam routine – it will serve you well.
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