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Stethoscopes 'may soon be obsolete'

The stethoscope, may be heading for the scrap heap after 200 years, health technology experts have claimed.

The development of new, more accurate and compact ultrasound devices could soon consign the Victorian stethoscope to medical history, two US heart experts predict.

Stethoscope 'may soon be obsolete'

Professor Jagat Narula and Dr Bret Nelson, both from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, point out that several manufacturers already make hand-held ultrasound machines “slightly larger than a deck of cards”.

Evidence suggests that compared with the stethoscope, the devices can reduce complications, assist in emergencies and improve diagnostic accuracy.

Currently even a top-of-the-range stethoscope costs only a fraction of the several thousand dollars needed to buy the cheapest ultrasound device.

But according to the experts, the falling price of new technology and changes in medical training could eventually see the stethoscope supplanted by pocket-sized ultrasound probes.

The simple listening tube for monitoring abnormal heart beats and wheezing lungs has been a common sight draped around the necks of doctors since its invention in 1816.

Writing in the journal Global Heart, of which Professor Narula is editor-in-chief, the authors conclude: “Certainly the stage is set for disruption; as LPs were replaced by cassettes, then CDs and MP3s, so too might the stethoscope yield to ultrasound.

“Medical students will train with portable devices during their preclinical years, and witness living anatomy and physiology previously only available through simulation. Their mentors will increasingly use point-of-care ultrasound in clinical environments to diagnose illness and guide procedures.

“They will see more efficient use of comprehensive, consultative ultrasound as well - guided by focused sonography and not limited by physical examination alone. And as they take on leadership roles themselves they may realise an even broader potential of a technology we are only beginning to fully utilise.

“At that point, will the ‘modern’ stethoscope earn a careful cleaning, tagging, and white-glove placement in the vault..?”

Despite the advantages of the new technology, there will still be traditionalists who prefer to hang on to the old ways, like music buffs lovingly preserving their vinyl records, the experts suggest.

They pose the question: “As some audiophiles still maintain the phonograph provides the truest sound, will some clinicians yet cling to the analogue acoustics of the stethoscope?”

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Readers' comments (9)

  • crap and what happends when it breaks down ? it is a machine? hear we go again establishments cant afford the staff never mind more high tech come on be realistic can this thousands of pounds equipment wipe a bum ,change a patent give them a drink vote for stethoscope cant wait for the next toy to be devised

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  • WE all need to embrace change and not stay in the dark age.

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  • Change is good, yes. I am from, and working in, South Africa. Staff shortage, for me, is a problem. Basic nursing care cannot be given. New technology comes out, very nice, but because of that there is less money to employ more people. Not that our Stethoscopes will be replaced here any time soon. But yes, basic nursing care will ALWAYS stay the most important.

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  • Well, we will wait and see....

    and evaluate.

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  • Reply to anonymous (25 Jan 8:54am) That's probably what some people said when the motor car started to replace the horse and cart.

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  • tinkerbell

    Accurate diagnostics are paramount, gets my vote,can always keep the stethoscope as back up, otherwise junior doctors might miss having something hanging round their neck at the social club.

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  • Experts mentioned are in the US from a privately funded healthcare system. This type of headline is put forward in preparation and driving forward, of privatisation of the NHS here.
    Beware the corporate carrot

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  • Damn, and I'm just learning to use one!

    although ultrasound easily replaces stethoscopes for cardiovascular exams , not sure how it replaces listening to lung fields, bowel sounds or manual BP. Also listening to heart sounds is a lot quicker and easier than echo for non-cardiac patients.

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  • That is new technology.In time to come everything is going to be taken care by robots. There is no need for for nurses and doctors and it will be robot care instead of nursing care. l

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