February 12, 2014
Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.
The implications of this are tremendous. The ability to get a better look inside the body could reduce or prevent the likelihood of misdiagnoses and help doctors detect any abnormalities that need to be followed up with other tests.
Before the stethoscope was invented, doctors used to place their ear directly onto the patient’s chest to hear the heartbeat, a practice called auscultation.
French physician René Laennec invented the stethoscope in 1816 while he was looking for a way to “look” into his young female patient’s chest without actually putting his ear to her chest. The first avatar of the stethoscope was a sheet of paper rolled into a tube. Laennec found he could hear his patient’s lung sounds easily when he placed one end on her chest and put his ear to the other end.
Subsequent versions of the stethoscope included a simply wooden tube that was similar to an ear trumpet. The design underwent several changes and improvements over the course of the 19th century and finally evolved into the device that we see today and which allows for the monitoring of the heart, lungs, blood flow and the intestines. Electronic stethoscopes that amplify the sounds in the chest and produce graphs were developed only sometime in the 1970s.
While some of the older doctors are nostalgic about the end of an era, proponents of the newer technology are enthusiastic about the tremendous potential they hold in their hands. The thought that ultrasound could diagnose heart, lung and other problems with a higher degree of accuracy as compared to the 200 year old stethoscope, opens the door to several possibilities.
One of the reasons why these devices are not more commonly used is that the technology is relatively new. Physicians who completed their training long before handheld ultrasounds came onto the scene are unlikely to use the devices, but this is set to change with future generations of doctors. With ultrasounds slowly being accepted as the stethoscope of the 21st century, medical students are now being trained to use these devices right from the first years of medical school.
The other reason behind the limited use of the modern smartphone-style device is its high cost. However, that is not likely to deter its widespread use for very long. As the technology becomes more common, the prices will naturally drop, putting them within reach of most medical professionals.