Better technology may flatline stethoscope use

Apr 6, 2014

The stethoscope may be the most recognizable tool in healthcare. It’s used to listen to the internal sounds of the body, and can be found in almost every doctor’s office. But with the development of better technology, the stethoscope may soon become obsolete.

This week on Take Care, Dr. Robert S. Rosenson discusses new stethoscope replacements. Dr. Rosenson is a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and is also director of cardio-metabolic disorders at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Dr. Rosenson.

The sounds a stethoscope picks up can reveal important information about what is happening inside the body. This, and the fact that it is easy and non-invasive to use, has contributed to its widespread use by healthcare practitioners. Factors such as blood pressure and underlying heart function can impact the intensity of the sounds picked up though, which could result in inaccurate readings.

“The stethoscope provides a good indication, but it’s not always so reliable, and this is why there has been a tremendous advance over the last several decades to use the ultrasound device known as an echocardiogram in cardiology,” says Dr. Rosenson.

While a stethoscope only allows you to listen to sounds, these ultrasound devices use that sound to create an actual image of the heart. “This allows for more rapid diagnosis, more accurate diagnosis, and the ability to treat our patients more effectively earlier in the course of the disease,” says Dr. Rosenson.

While they aren’t as effective or as powerful as full cardiac imaging procedures, these devices can be used to get important treatment information to patients quicker than ever.

“They can give you a glimpse of the heart and help guide therapy before a more intensive evaluation is done,” says Dr. Rosenson.

As technology has gotten better, these types of devices have gotten both smaller and cheaper. Currently, some are so small they can fit in your pocket. These factors have contributed to them being used in remote and underdeveloped areas, where better medical testing technology is not available or affordable.

While lower costs and more training on how to use the devices will be needed to make them more available, Dr. Rosenson predicts they will have a large impact on the future of healthcare.

“I think that the development of low cost devices, which is on the horizon, is going to be a critical step forward improving point-of-care medicine, the ability to treat the patient in your office with greater rapidity and effectiveness,” he says.