Determining peripheral skin temperature: subjective versus objective measurements

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Abstract

Aim:

Diseases that affect peripheral vasculature or neurological function can manifest with peripheral skin temperature abnormalities. This pilot study investigates the accuracy of current physical examination techniques and determines whether a hand-held infrared device can be used to estimate peripheral skin temperature and detect temperature disparities.

Methods:

Comparison between traditional physical examination of hands/feet by 30 healthcare professionals and a hand-held infrared device was made in 12 individuals (ages 4–25 years; 5 with disorders affecting peripheral skin temperature). Thermal camera measurements served as the reference temperature for comparison.

Results:

A total of 231 extremity examinations by healthcare professionals were analysed. Healthcare professionals correctly identified subjects with colder or warmer than normal peripheral temperature. Hand-held device measurements were significantly different than reference measurements, with the size of the temperature difference diverging significantly between hands (1.20°C) and feet (0.78°C). When analysing temperature disparities, healthcare professionals identified fewer clinically significant disparities (≥3.0°C) than the hand-held device (76% vs. 99%).

Conclusion:

Although different from reference temperatures, the hand-held infrared device provided a more accurate and objective method than traditional physical exam in identifying peripheral skin temperature asymmetries that may be related to chronic paediatric illness.

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