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Why Should Digital Vaginal Exams Be Avoided In Preterm Patients?

In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of performing a digital vaginal exam in a preterm patient.

What is a Digital Vaginal Exam?

A digital vaginal exam is a vaginal exam that uses digital technology to acquire images for diagnosis by a radiologist or gynecologist. While this type of examination has many advantages, it also has some pitfalls that need to be considered. As with any new technology, there are also some things that you need to know before you perform a digital vaginal exam. Here are some of them:

The Advantages of a Digital Vaginal Exam

For one, a digital vaginal exam has many advantages over traditional vaginal exams. To begin with, it is much easier to use and involves less discomfort for the patient. Second, it provides a more objective measurement than a physical exam since the examiners cannot interfere as much as they might in a physical exam. Lastly, it allows for a much more efficient use of the healthcare provider’s time since they no longer have to perform as many routine speculum exams as they would with a conventional method. As a result, they can spend more time with the patient and provide a higher level of care. That is the advantage of a digital vaginal exam over a physical exam. Let’s take a look at each of these one by one.

Ease of Use

Unlike with a physical exam where it can be difficult for the patient to visualize how the speculum will feel inside of their vagina, with a digital vaginal exam they can actually see the speculum and how it will look inside of their vagina. This makes the entire procedure much easier for the patient to understand and follow through with. As a result, they have less fear of the procedure and it goes much more smoothly which makes the entire exam go more quickly and with less discomfort. In general, a digital exam is less painful than a physical one and has fewer complications associated with it. It is also easier to learn how to perform, especially since the instructor can guide you step by step through the process. Even for a doctor who is not usually very tech-savvy, it is a relatively simple process to figure out how to do a digital vaginal exam. This makes it more accessible to clinicians who might not normally perform this kind of procedure.

Less Discomfort

Unlike with a physical exam where it is difficult to know how deep you need to insert the speculum to adequately visualize everything, with a digital vaginal exam the clinician knows exactly how much they need to insert the speculum to get an optimal view of the patient’s vagina. This makes it much less uncomfortable for the patient since they are not having to constantly ask the clinician to reinsert the speculum or feel pain from an over-insertion. In other words, a digital vaginal exam is less invasive and creates less discomfort for the patient.

Objective Findings

As we mentioned above, one of the biggest advantages of digital vaginal exams is that they can provide more objective findings than a physical exam. This is particularly beneficial for preterm patients who might not always display clear symptoms that would indicate a particular disease. In these cases, a digital exam might be the only way to get an accurate diagnosis. Inaccurate findings from a physical exam can lead to incorrect treatments and increased healthcare cost. This is why it is so important to get an accurate diagnosis as early as possible in these patients. Even when the patient’s condition is initially treated successfully, an inaccurate diagnosis can still cause the disease to come back with a vengeance. This might again necessitate more aggressive treatments which could potentially cause more harm than good.

More Efficient

Unlike with a physical exam where it can be difficult to move around while the clinician takes their time examining you and recording your findings, with a digital exam you can actually do something else while the clinician is looking at your vagina. You can bring your tablet or laptop to the examining room so that you can work or look online while the clinician is checking the measurements and taking images of your vagina. This makes the entire procedure much more efficient for the clinician since they no longer have to stop what they are doing just to examine you or take notes about your condition. The recorded images can then be viewed at a later time to compare your current condition to past exams or to see how you are responding to treatment. In addition, if a clinician suspects that your symptoms are caused by a certain condition, they might want to order further tests or scan to confirm their suspicions. With a digital exam, it is much easier to track down the results of a particular test or scan since everything is digitalized and stored on a computer.

Less Risk Of Infection

As with any medical procedure, there is always the risk of infection. With a digital vaginal exam, this risk is virtually non-existent since everything is handled with the utmost care and cleanliness. For instance, the device used to collect the samples is often cleaned and sterilized before and after use so that there is no risk of infection from contaminated tools. Also, since everything is done electronically, there is less of a chance for errors to occur. In other words, it is less likely that the patient will get an infection from a healthcare provider who is trying to help them.

No Or Less Pain

Besides the discomfort that a physical exam can cause, there is also the risk of pain from the speculum. Typically associated with vaginal exams, speculum pain is something that all preterm patients experience at one time or another. Some women experience it so badly that they scream or cry out during a speculum exam. This is why it is important to examine you during the first or second trimester because by then most of your cervices will be prepared and less sensitivity will be felt during the exam. In general, an instructor can help guide you through the whole procedure so that it is less painful for you and provides better results.

Availability Of Specialized Training For Clinicians

Depending on the specialty of the practitioner, they might not all be familiar with every type of procedure or technology used in obstetrics and gynecology. This can make it harder for them to perform certain procedures or take samples accurately. However, with a little bit of training, anyone can become a proficient practitioner of obstetrics and gynecology and be able to perform a digital vaginal exam with ease. This makes it much more accessible to clinicians who are not necessarily specialized in this area but who still want to use digital technology to diagnose and treat patients. Just remember to always clean the digital devices after each use as well as following the instructions that came with them to ensure the best results from the procedure.

The Disadvantages Of A Digital Vaginal Exam

Just because something is easy and has many advantages, it does not mean that it is perfect for every situation. Like any other medical procedure, there are also some things that you need to know before you use digital technology to examine your patient’s vagina. Here are the disadvantages of a digital vaginal exam.


The cost of owning and operating a medical device like this one can range from $500 to $2500. In addition, depending on the model, there is also the cost of initial setup (which can be substantial). For instance, one company that makes this type of device has a one-time cost of $1500 plus any ongoing costs such as internet access via WiFi or cellular data plan. Considering the fact that this is a one-time cost for a physician group or a hospital to purchase and implement a digital vaginal exam program, it is not difficult to see how much digital vaginal exams can cost the healthcare system as a whole. This makes it more difficult to justify the cost in certain situations since it can replace time-consuming and expensive traditional methods of diagnosis.


Just because a method is new and has many advantages does not mean that it is necessarily better than what came before it. A lot of physicians and clinicians still prefer to use a physical exam to diagnose certain conditions since it is more efficient and can detect certain types of conditions that a digital exam cannot. In other words, even though a digital exam is much easier and less painful for the patient, it is not always the best choice. Inefficiency is one of the major issues associated with a digital vaginal exam. Some conditions such as syphilis and chlamydia can only be detected by a physical exam so if a physician suspects that you have one of these diseases, then they will not be able to diagnose you using a digital exam alone.

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