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 degrees C) and feet (0.78 degrees C). When analysing temperature disparities, healthcare professionals identified fewer clinically significant disparities (>/=3.0 degrees 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.