A controlled study of palpatory diagnostic procedures: Assessment of sensitivity and specificity

R. S. Tarr, R. A. Feely, D. L. Richardson, A. L. Mulloy, K. E. Nelson, W. E. Perrin, E. F. Allin, M. E. Efrusy, S. I. Greenstein, R. D. Vatt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


A study was conducted to determine if experienced osteopathic physicians could diagnose disease states using palpatory findings as their source of diagnostic clues. Five examiners saw a total of 100 subjects. Two of the examiners were allowed to palpate the subject, the other 3 examiners were not. None of the 5 examiners had any knowledge of the subject's medical history, and none were allowed to talk to the subjects. Thus the nonpalpating examiners only had visual clues to aid in diagnosis, while the palpating examiners had both visual clues and palpatory clues. A comparison of the diagnostic accuracy of the palpating and nonpalpating examiners thus indicated the ability of the palpating physicians to distinguish disease states by palpatory findings alone. One hundred subjects were examined: 22 patients with documented gastrointestinal disease, 31 patients with documented asthma (but were in remission), and 47 control subjects with a negative history for either gastrointestinal pathology or asthma. Controls were matched for appearance, age, sex, race, and weight, with the 2 groups of patients. The results showed that neither the palpating physicians nor the nonpalpating could correctly categorize the subjects as gastrointestinal patients, asthma patients, or controls. The palpating physicians did not demonstrate any increased diagnostic accuracy over the nonpalpating examiners. Reasons for these negative results are discussed, as is the issue of using appropriate control procedures in osteopathic clinical research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)296-301
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the American Osteopathic Association
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Complementary and alternative medicine


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