Sensor Technology May Improve Accuracy of Breast Exams

Many physicians still use technique that fails to detect deep tissue lesions near the chest wall.

Many physicians still use technique that fails to detect deep tissue lesions near the chest wall.

The use of sensor technology may significantly enhance proper clinical breast exam (CBE) techniques, a recent study finds.

The study, published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, evaluated the utilization of sensors to provide critical analysis that has previously been unavailable to clinicians.

"Variations in palpable force used during a CBE cannot be reliably measured by human observation alone," principal investigator Carla Pugh said in a press release. "Our findings revealed that 15 percent of the physicians we tested were using a technique that put them at significant risk of missing deep tissue lesions near the chest wall. This research underscores the potential for sensor technology to be used not only to improve clinical performance, but to also allow for objective evidence-based training, assessment and credentialing."

The study tabbed 553 practicing physicians during annual meetings for the American Society of Breast Surgeons, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American College of Obstetricians. The physicians were asked to perform simulated breast exams under conditions that simulate an office visit for a symptomatic patient.

The physicians were asked to complete a demographic survey, examine a clinical scenario, and perform a breast exam on a sensor-enabled breast model before documenting their findings. The study sought to record CBE technique as clinicians were purposefully searching for a mass.

The results revealed that physicians who palpated fewer than 10 newtons were able to find 2 superficial masses on the breast model, but they failed to find 2 deeper ones. Physicians who increased the palpation pressure increased the probability of identifying deeper lesions.

The researchers suggest the optimal palpation force to find deeper lesions is between 12 and 17 newtons.

"I want to spark a serious conversation about the potential for high-end, mastery training in the health care profession," Pugh said. "Health care is at a critical juncture where there are huge opportunities for major information exchanges that can empower physicians and patients. Both patients and physicians will benefit from clinical-skills performance data."