- In Berlin, a center trains blind women, whose sense of touch is more developed, to screen for small tumors that are difficult to detect.
Tumors that measure between 5 and 8 millimeters can now be detected with a simple breast palpation. This feat is made possible thanks to the new tactile medical assistants, trained at the German center Discovering hands, in Berlin (Germany). All the participants – exclusively women – of this training are blind because their sense of touch is much more developed than average, multiplied because of their blindness. An asset that allows them to detect very small tumors. During a palpation, a doctor or gynecologist may smell tumors that are between 1 and 2 centimeters in size. Tactile medical assistants are able to spot tumors up to two and a half times smaller.
State-funded training and private scholarships
The idea for this new post of tactile medical assistants comes from Franck Hoffmann, a gynecologist. Noting that he and his colleagues could not detect very small tumors, he had, one morning, a revelation: blind people who depend on their sense of touch will be fine. more effective than any doctor. This is how the Discovering Hands center was born in 2006. The training offered lasts nine months and costs 30,000 euros. However, the participants do not have to pay anything. Everything is taken care of by the German state and private scholarships. Learning to palpate the breast is both theoretical and practical. They first affect small wooden balls representing different sizes of tumors. Once they have integrated them, they practice finding them in foam mats supposed to represent the epidermis. The more they train, the more they refine their sense of touch to better detect them.
Patients have a better chance of being cured
The challenge is twofold: cheaper, more complete and more efficient screening. At a gynecologist or doctor, a breast palpation does not last long, on the order of three minutes. These medical assistants, in addition to their more precise screening, will give patients more time. They can ask as many questions as they wish and be reassured. But who says longer does not mean more expensive because touchscreen medical assistants have lower salaries than doctors and gynecologists. In Germany, the costs of these consultations will be covered by health insurance. Finally, the last more than beneficial advantage for the patients: the very early detection allowed by the tactile medical assistants greatly increases the chances of recovery. Indeed, the smaller the tumor is and spotted earlier, the more effective the treatment, started immediately, will be.
At the moment, in Germany, around forty tactile medical assistants are working in gynecological practices.