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What Tools Does a Doctor Use?

By Valli Schieltz ; Updated July 27, 2017

During your physical exam your doctor makes use of several different doctor's tools such as a blood pressure monitor which is designed to measure your blood pressure; an ophthalmoscope which is used to examine the eyes; a thermometer which the doctor will use to measure your temperature; a stethoscope which a doctor uses to listen to the patient's heart, lungs and abdomen, and an otoscope which your doctor will use to examine the inside of your ears, nose and mouth.

In addition to these, there are many more doctor's tools that are used in different specialized areas of medicine, to diagnose and observe and monitor a variety of more complicated medical conditions.


This doctor's tool is a major symbol of the medical profession. Its beginnings can be traced all the way back to Laennec, the French doctor, who was the inventor of a crude model in 1819. Many modifications have occurred since then. The original version consisted of a wooden box in which the doctor heard the sounds within the patient's chest cavity.

The modern version is composed of two earpieces that are connected by a piece of flexible tubing to a diaphragm. A doctor makes use of this tool when he wants to hear the low-volume sounds that are put out by the heart, intestine and the fetal heartbeat.


An otoscope is another commonly used tool in health exams. It has a cone-shaped attachment on the end called an ear speculum. It is used to examine a patient's ear canal. The doctor is able to peer into the ear canal in order to check whether the eardrum is red or has fluid behind it; this is indicative of an ear infection. A pneumatic otoscope delivers a small puff of air to a patient's eardrum to see if it vibrates. This vibration of the eardrum is completely normal. An otoscope examination can also detect a wax build-up in the ear canal or whether the eardrum is punctured or ruptured.

Blood Pressure Monitor

Measuring blood pressure calls for an instrument named sphygmomanometer which measures the blood pressure in the arteries. There are basically two types of these instruments. One kind is a mercury column and the other consists of a gauge accompanied with a dial face. The sphygmomanometer which is most commonly used today is the gauge which is attached to a rubber cuff. It is then wrapped around the patient's upper arm and is inflated in order to constrict the arteries. When the cuff is fully inflated with air, the doctor places a stethoscope over the brachial artery in the crook of the patient's arm. As the air in the cuff is slowly released, the first sound the doctor hears through the stethoscope is the systolic pressure. As the air continues to be released from the cuff, another point is reached when the doctor no longer hears any sound. This marks the diastolic blood pressure.


A thermometer is one of the most commonly used tools by doctors. It is a doctor's tool that measures the body temperature. They come in the following types:

Oral and rectal thermometers: A conventional oral or rectal thermometer consists of a sealed glass tube containing a liquid like mercury. Imprinted on the tube is a temperature scale. When the temperature rises or falls, the mercury will expand or contract, causing the mercury to move up or down the thermometer's tiny passageway. If the mercury moves up the scale, before it is used again, the thermometer will have to be “shaken down.” In order to get an accurate reading, the patient must keep this instrument in contact with her body for approximately four minutes in order to obtain an accurate reading. The rectal thermometer is typically a little more accurate than an oral thermometer.

Digital thermometers: Today thermometers are available that have digital displays. It is much easier to read the temperature this way. A beeper signals when the thermometer has finished registering the temperature. These thermometers come with flexible tubes that resist breakage.

Ear thermometers: Eardrum thermometers are very precise and read infrared radiation that emanates from the eardrum tissue.

Basal thermometers: These thermometers measure minor changes in temperature in a woman's body to indicate to her whether ovulation, or when an egg has been released from a woman's ovary, has taken place. A woman's temperature may rise slightly when ovulation occurs and will not return to a normal temperature until the beginning ogf menstruation. Basal thermometers are quite sensitive and will monitor even the slightest temperature change.


One very important tool used by a doctor is an ophthalmoscope, which examines the interior portion of the eye including the retina, optic nerve and lens.

A common clinical ophthalmoscope, which can be found in your family physician's office, consists of a concave mirror along with a battery-powered light that is housed within the handle. The doctor peers through one monocular eyepiece into each eye of the patient. This tool has been developed with a rotating disc of lenses which permits the eye to be examined at different magnifications and depths. For a doctor to use this tool efficiently, a patient may have to have eye drops that will dilate the pupil as well as enlarge the opening into the eye's inner structures.

The ophthalmoscope has been an invaluable tool in many medical fields including cardiology, hematology, genetics, neurosurgery, family medicine, internal medicine, diabetes, medical genetics, rheumatology, neurology, pediatrics and geriatrics.

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