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Clinical physiology is both an academic discipline within the medical sciences and a clinical medical specialty for physicians in the health care systems of Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Clinical Physiology can also be more broadly defined as the application of the knowledge of human physiology to patients in a health care setting. As a specialty for medical doctors, Clinical Physiology is a diagnostic specialty to which patients are referred to undergo specialized tests of functions of the heart, blood vessels, lungs, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract, and other organs. Testing methods include evaluation of electrical activity (e.g. electrocardiogram of the heart), blood pressure (e.g. ankle brachial pressure index), and air flow (e.g. pulmonary function testing using spirometry). In addition, Clinical Physiologists measure movements, velocities, and metabolic processes through imaging techniques such as ultrasound, echocardiography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), x-ray computed tomography (CT), and nuclear medicine scanners (e.g. single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and positron emission tomography (PET) with and without CT).
Human physiology is the study of bodily functions. Clinical physiology examinations typically involve assessment of such functions as opposed to assessment of structures and anatomy. The specialty encompasses the development of new physiological tests for medical diagnostics, while some Clinical Physiology departments perform tests from related medical specialties including nuclear medicine, clinical neurophysiology, and radiology. In the health care systems of countries that lack this specialty, the tests performed in clinical physiology are often performed by the various organ-specific specialties in internal medicine, such as cardiology, pulmonology, nephrology, and others.
In Australia and the United Kingdom, clinical physiology is not a medical specialty for physicians. Rather, clinical physiologist is a term used in these systems to refer to an allied health professional, scientist, or technologist who may work as a cardiac scientist, vascular scientist, respiratory scientist, sleep scientist or in Ophthalmic and Vision Science as an Ophthalmic Science Practitioner (UK). These professionals also aid in the diagnosis of disease and manage patients, with an emphasis on understanding physiological and pathophysiological pathways.