NPR

In The Age Of Digital Medicine, The Humble Reflex Hammer Hangs On

Nearly 130 years since its inception, a modest knob of rubber with a metal handle is still invaluable in diagnosing disease and avoiding expensive testing. But its history is anything but simple.
The good old reflex hammer (like this Taylor model) might seem like an outdated medical device, but its role in diagnosing disease is still as important as ever. Source: Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Receiving a diagnosis in 2017 — at least one made at a medical center outfitted with the latest clinical gadgetry — might include a scan that divides your body into a bread loaf of high-resolution digital slices. Your DNA might be fed through a gene sequencer that spits out your mortal code in a matter of hours. Even your smartphone might soon be used to uncover health problems.

Yet nearly 130 years since its inception — after decades of science has mapped out our neuronal pathways — a simple knob of rubber with a metal handle remains one of medicine's most essential tools. I'm referring to the cheap, portable, easy-to-use reflex hammer.

This unassuming device can be invaluable in diagnosing nervous and muscular disorders, and in determining whether a patient's pathology lies in the brain or elsewhere in

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