Illustrated: Death of the Steth?

Published: Wednesday, Feb 13, 2008
What’s Around Your Neck? (Or Sitting in Your Exam Room?)

Although stethoscopes have been around for nearly two centuries (Laennec invented the first model in 1816; it looked like a wooden trumpet), at first glance it would seem that not much has changed since the Rappaport-Sprague design was introduced in the 1940s, followed by the Littmann model 20 years later. Don’t let outward appearances fool you—although modern stethoscopes may look quite similar to their forbears, today’s models feature a host of refinements and advances that give them capabilities far surpassing the older acoustic versions. So, it doesn’t look like the basic stethoscope concept is going away any time soon. In fact, there are several new gadgets on the market that you may want to check out.

Noise-Immune Ultrasound Stethoscope

Researchers at Active Signal Technologies, Inc., in collaboration with the US Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, have developed “an ultrasound stethoscope that is nearly impervious to loud noise and is capable of making accurate readings at noise levels up to 120 decibels.” This device would be ideal for emergency first responders or physicians who find themselves performing exams outside of the quiet environs of the hospital or clinic.

Siemens ACUSON P10Handheld Ultrasound System

Is this the next step in physical exam equipment? Siemens claims this technology is useful in a variety of practice settings and that it allows for “faster diagnosis, faster intervention, improved physician-patient communication, and the potential elimination of unnecessary testing.” The device appears particularly suited to cardiology, since it can be used in “routine in-office exams of asymptomatic patients, to detect conditions that are clinically significant but have previously required expensive or invasive diagnostic examinations.” Conditions such as carotid atherosclerosis, left-ventricular systolic dysfunction, and abdominal aortic aneurysms that can lead to heart disease, stroke, or a ruptured aneurysm could be detected via handheld ultrasound.

Thinklabs ds32a DigitalStethoscope

Relying on what the company calls “end-to-end electronics”—from diaphragm to eartips—the ds32a allows users to “adjust volume for faint heart sounds, obese patients, and noisy work environments.” Other features include the ability to switch to acoustic mode, configure and save personal settings, and record heart sounds using an iPod or other mp3 player.

Deep Breeze Vibration Response Imaging System (VRITMxp)

According to its manufacturer, this device is “a pulmonary imaging device that captures the vibration response energy generated by the lungs and creates a radiation-free, dynamic, real-time structural and functional image of the lungs throughout the respiration process.” Could it eventually replace the stethoscope for listening to respiratory sounds? The

company claims that within “mere seconds, a doctor using the technology can ascertain an enormous amount of information about the lung that would ordinarily take hours and require the use of several devices.”

Master Elite™ Electronic Stethoscope

Welch Allyn’s electronic stethoscope allows practitioners to “listen to either high or low frequencies to easily pick up

low diastolic murmurs or high-pitched pulmonary sounds.” Available accessories also enable users to “electronically capture, record, and distribute body sounds or allow multiple users to co-listen.”


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