I just read an article in JAMA questioning the need for routine physical examination on a healthy patient as there is no "evidence" to support this. The author then presents an anecdote regarding his own father who on a routine physical examination was thought to have enlarged aorta by palpation: leading to an ultrasound showing a normal aorta but question of a pancreatic mass; leading to a CT scan showing a , of course, normal pancreas but a possible liver lesion; leading to a biopsy (of a hemangioma); leading to a hemorrhage; and , finally, the denouement, leading to a stay in an ICU. Cost: $50,000. Admittedly, the author is trying to pick a bone with routine yearly physical examinations but the article gives impression that examination of a "healthy" organ is worse than useless and calls into question the usefulness of any physical examination.
Since we are in the realm of anecdote let me present a few. In my career, I have picked up on routine examination six or seven abdominal aortic aneurysms of significant size. All of these patients were smokers and had a bruit. My yield on this physical finding is about 80%. I suspect the author's father's internist had never palpated an actual aneurysm. When I taught in a medical school, I told my students and residents that the key to physical examination is not to be Dr. Joseph Bell but just to do it. In other words, the key is to look for the obvious not the subtle. Unfortunately fear of lawsuits has made all of us order tests for insignificant findings.