One of the most interesting tools in a doctor’s office is the stethoscope. It has been representing doctors and has been their icon for the last 200 years. However, the universal tool of the medical profession is being declared dead by a leading Indian-origin cardiologist in the US.
Why the debate over a stethoscope?
Nowadays, the sounds transmitted by the stethoscope from the heart, lungs, blood vessels and vowels are digitised, amplified, filtered and recorded. There are various algorithms now available that analyse the clues picked up by the stethoscope and also diagnose the condition. But the debate is over the fact that whether these advances represent the rebirth of a new diagnostic tool or the death of an obsolete device in cardiology.
New inventions that can replace the stethoscope in cardiology
Echocardiograms and pocket-sized ultrasound devices are widely used now and hence questions are raised over why doctors continue to use a stethoscope. Jagat Narula, a cardiologist and associate dean for global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York said that the time for the stethoscope is gone and it is dead. In 2012, the Mount Sinai Hospital began giving its students hand-held ultrasound devices that are a little bigger than am mobile phone and can generate real-time images of the heart right at the bed side. Several other hospitals are expected to follow suit.
Can other branches of medicine also stop using the stethoscope?
Narula said that auscultation (listening) in cardiology is unnecessary and we are wasting students time and why should cardiologists not use an echocardiogram if it is as small as a stethoscope?
But, experts argue that stethoscopes are important for listening to the lungs and bowels for diagnosing the diseases. W. Reid Thompson an associate professor of paediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine counter argues that listening to the body’s sounds is yet to be replaced by imaging and it won’t be possible for a very long time.
Does the stethoscope really help doctors?
Both the sides however agreed that not all doctors can use the stethoscope properly and have not been very good at using for a very long time. A study conducted in 1997 revealed that both internal medicine and family practice trainees had a very low identification rate for 12 important and common cardiac events. 453 physicians in training and 88 medical students were analysed in this study. Another study revealed that doctors stop improving auscultation after the third year of medical school.
2015 Kashmir Despatch