In a recent article by titled Listening-touch, Affect and the Crafting of Medical Bodies through Percussion, Anna Harris discusses the effect that technology has had on the loss of doctors’ physical assessment and treatment skills. The article focuses on the technique of percussion – the ‘listening touch’ as she calls it, that comes from percussing the chest to perceive the density of underlying tissues. Here’s the abstract for the paper, and here’s a link to the paper itself:
The growing abundance of medical technologies has led to laments over doctors’ sensory de-skilling, technologies viewed as replacing diagnosis based on sensory acumen. The technique of percussion has become emblematic of the kinds of skills considered lost. While disappearing from wards, percussion is still taught in medical schools. By ethnographically following how percussion is taught to and learned by students, this article considers the kinds of bodies configured through this multisensory practice. I suggest that three kinds of bodies arise: skilled bodies; affected bodies; and resonating bodies. As these bodies are crafted, I argue that boundaries between bodies of novices and bodies they learn from blur. Attending to an overlooked dimension of bodily configurations in medicine, self-perception, I show that learning percussion functions not only to perpetuate diagnostic craft skills but also as a way of knowing of, and through, the resource always at hand; one’s own living breathing body.
Percussion is a skill still taught to physiotherapy graduates, and is, perhaps still used by many. I wonder, though, how many of you still use it on a daily basis? Do you still have the time? Have other assessment tools and techniques replaced it?
If so, what other techniques have you given up out of efficiency, lack of evidence, or loss of skill?
Like indigenous languages and our biodiverse gene pool, are we losing physical techniques that were once so emblematic of physical therapies? And if so, at what cost?
Harris, A. (2016). Listening-touch, Affect and the Crafting of Medical Bodies through Percussion. Body & Society, 22(1), 31-61. DOI: 10.1177/1357034X15604031.