Diagnostic medical equipment and supplies help clinicians to measure and observe various aspects of a patient’s health so that they can form a diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made, the clinician can then prescribe an appropriate treatment plan. Diagnostic medical equipment is found in outpatient care centers for adult and pediatrics, in
emergency rooms, as well as inpatient hospital rooms and intensive care units.
The following list is not exhaustive, but it provides an overview of some of the most commonly
used diagnostic tools.
Stethoscopes
Stethoscopes are probably the most recognizable of all medical diagnostic tools. They are used
to listen to heart sounds, the lungs, and even blood flow in the arteries and veins.
Stethoscopes help diagnose:
Pneumonia
Bronchitis
Heart palpitations
Heart disease
Arrhythmia
Heart valve issues
Stethoscopes are also used along with a sphygmomanometer to measure blood pressure.
Electronic Stethoscopes improve sound quality when listening to the low-pitched heart sounds
and the high-pitched pulmonary sounds. They can be connected to a computer to record and
save the sounds. They can be hooked up to distributors that allow multiple people to listen on
adjoining stethoscopes. This last feature is important when training interns, residents, and
fellows.
Sphygmomanometers
Evidence-based medicine has proven that the measure of blood pressure is important in
determining the overall health of a person.
The sphygmomanometer can help diagnose:
Diabetes
High or low blood pressure
Artery hardening
Arterial plaque
Hypotension
High blood pressure has been linked to several diseases. There are a few products that are
used to measure blood pressure.
Manual sphygmomanometers are considered the most reliable. Mercury manometers don’t
require routine calibration and therefore are used in high-risk scenarios.
Aneroid sphygmomanometers are a little less reliable because they can lose their calibration
when bumped, which can be a common occurrence in healthcare settings. Wall-mounted styles
can reduce this possibility, but should still have calibration checks to be sure. The aneroid style
is easily identified as a mechanical unit with a dial for the readings, as well as a bulb and air
valve.
Digital finger blood pressure monitors are the smallest and most portable. While easy to
operate, they are a bit less accurate.
Digital sphygmomanometers, like the digital finger blood pressure monitors, are also electronic.
They can be inflated either manually or automatically. They are easy to use but derive blood
pressure in an indirect way. Digital units measure mean arterial pressure, which basically
translates into an average of the systolic and diastolic pressure. The digital
sphygmomanometer then must derive what the systolic and diastolic readings would be. These
are helpful in noisy areas where the manual mercury manometers would prove ineffective
because of the need for the clinician to hear the Korotkoff sounds.
Ophthalmoscopes
Ophthalmoscopes are handheld tools that allow a physician to see into the fundus of a patient’s
eye. This type of diagnostic tool is commonly used in physical or outpatient exams.
Ophthalmoscopes can help diagnose:
Bacterial infections
Detached retinas
Glaucoma
There are two types of ophthalmoscopes.
Direct ophthalmoscopes produce an upright image of approximately 15 times magnification.
These tools are held as close to the patient’s eye as possible.
Indirect ophthalmoscopes produce an inverted image of 2 to 5 times magnification. Indirect
ophthalmoscopes are held 24 to 30 inches from the patient’s eye. Indirects also have a more
powerful light so they are more effective than directs when used in patients with cataracts.
Otoscopes
Otoscopes are handheld devices that allow physicians to look into the ear canal and view the
tympanic membrane through the magnification lens.
Otoscopes help diagnose:
Ear infections
Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
Causes of vertigo or dizziness
Meniere’s Disease
Swimmers Ear
The head of the otoscope also has a light. The light, together with the magnifying lens, make it
possible to view the outer and middle ear. The portion that the physician inserts into the ear
canal is called the disposable speculum. Disposable specula are stored in a dispenser in the
exam room so that a new, clean one can be attached to the otoscopes for each patient.
Electrocardiographs
Electrocardiographs measure the
electrical activity of the heart . During this examination, heart rate can be recorded, as well as
the regularity of the beats. These are two key indicators of any issues in the heart. Physicians
can even read an electrocardiograph to determine the size and position of each heart chamber.
And finally, a major use for the electrocardiograph is to diagnose damage to the heart and the
impact and efficacy of drug treatment or device implant.
Thermometer
Thermometers are used in all areas and levels of care, from routine physical exams to
emergency department triage to inpatient care. There are now electronic thermometers that
shorten the time necessary to measure a patient’s temperature. The electronic ones can be set
for the specific part of the body being measured, such as the mouth, under the armpit, rectally,
or the ear.

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