Have you ever been to a hospital only to come across fascinating tools but don’t have a clue what they are used for? Well, it used to happen to me before I went to medical school, and I am sure we can all relate with this.

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Mankind has benefited from the development of everyday tools that were once non-existent but are now almost irreplaceable. A clear example is the development of the smartphone, for many of us, we don’t even understand how we used phones that couldn’t take photos or let us play good games in the past. The medical world was not left behind in the development of tools, today, the life of health workers is a lot easier than it used to be, patients can now be catered for using awesome pieces of equipment that help with diagnosis and even treatment of many conditions.

In this article, we will be outlining 6 common hospital tools and explaining the function of each one.

Let’s dive right in:

1. Stethoscope

This is perhaps the most famous. It has become an occupational symbol for doctors and nurses. As a matter of fact, many carry one around with them, a stethoscope can be easily found in the bag, car, home or even hanging on the neck of many health workers.

Medical Doctor with a Stethoscope dangling from his breast pocket

There’s even a funny history about its invention by a French physician who was uncomfortable placing his ears directly on the chest of a female patient (it was common for doctors to place their ears on the chest of patients to listen to their hearts and lungs).

Stethoscopes help doctors listen to different body sounds of patients. They can be used to check for heart sounds, lung sounds or even bowel sounds in the abdomen. They can also be used to check blood pressure manually with a sphygmomanometer. (I wrote a detailed stethoscope review, you can check it here.)

Nowadays, stethoscopes look a lot different from what they looked like shortly after being invented. Those days, they looked like trumpets, with one earpiece. Today, we even have digital stethoscopes that can pick up very low-frequency sounds and amplify them loud enough for doctors and patients to listen to. Some brands even come with functions like Bluetooth connectivity and sound recording.

2. Sphygmomanometer

This device is used to check blood pressure and comes in two types. The manual one and the digital one.

The type that is perhaps more popular in hospitals is the manual one. It often works with mercury. When a cuff is applied to the arm of a patient and then inflated, the pressure rises in the arm and hence cuts of blood supply at a certain pressure. A stethoscope is then used to identify certain sounds (Korotkoff sounds) which the health worker uses to determine what a person’s blood pressure is. The pressure is usually read off a calibrated gauge.

Manual Sphygmomanometer

The digital one is fancier, it comes with an electronic screen, is battery or AC powered, and does not require the use of a stethoscope. Another interesting thing about digital ones is that they can be used at home alone without needing anyone’s assistance.

Blood pressure readings usually have two numbers separated by a ‘/’, looking like this: XX/YY.

The number on the left is called the systolic blood pressure (the blood pressure when the heart contracts) while the number on the right is the diastolic blood pressure (the blood pressure when the heart relaxes).

3. Pen Torch

One may wonder why this tool is on this list. But if you look carefully at your doctor’s table, you may see something that looks like a really big pen. It is a very vital tool for the assessment of patients.

Pen Torch
Pen Torch

It is used to examine the eyes (check for pupillary reflexes), it is also used to look at orifices like the mouth and nose. In the mouth, it can be used to check the gums, tongue, teeth, and tonsils. Tonsillitis is quite common, and you can not actually see a person’s tonsils clearly without illuminating them with a light source, preferably from a pen torch.

4. Measuring Tape

In medicine, accuracy and precision are very important. Whether it is to measure the size of a baby’s head to see how well the child is growing, to measure the abdomen of a pregnant woman to assess the baby’s development or to check the size of an abnormal swelling, measuring tapes are very necessary tools in a hospital or clinic.

In fact, you are very likely to see it out in the open if you visited an obstetrician during an antenatal clinic.

5. Reflex Hammer

It may not be the hammer you imagine and it isn’t used to break stuff. Rather, this unique tool has a firm or rubber head that is used to check for reflexes in the nervous system.

Reflex hammer
Doctor using a Reflex Hammer on a patient’s knee cap.

For instance, certain diseases like stroke and diabetes can cause problems in a person’s nervous system. Reflex hammers can be used to gently hit tendons that cross certain joints like the knee and ankle to see if the muscles will jerk under reflex. A common test that this device is used to check for is the knee-jerk reflex.

6. Otoscope

When you hear the word ‘oto’ in medicine, it usually refers to the ears. For example, otolaryngologists are doctors who specialize in treating the ears, nose, and throat. In the same vein, otoscopes are devices used to examine the ears.

Otolaryngologists examines a patient’s ear with an otoscope

They usually have a light source, handle and a lens through which a doctor can peep into the ear canal to view the eardrum (tympanic membrane).

They can be used to diagnose conditions like earwax blockage, otitis media and to investigate other hearing problems.