Death of the stethoscope 2

Death of the stethoscope 2
Amanda Maxwell   |   07.06.2017   |   Science Stories

Take “Death of the stethoscope,” which surfaced in my RSS feed in the middle of 2015. As a former stethoscope user, the clickbait headline immediately intrigued me.

No stethoscope? How would clinicians survive?


First off: a little history. According to his Wikipedia summary, a French doctor called René Laennec invented a hollow hearing tube in 1816 to assist doctors in listening to a patient's heart and lungs. Around 1852, the single tube morphed into the standard model that you see plugged into physicians' ears from Grey's Anatomy to House to ER. Apart from making them look hot professional, a stethoscope also helps with auscultation, the examination procedure whereby a doctor eavesdrops on your internal whooshes, pings and lub-dups. Noises from heart rhythms, gut movements and respiration all help with making a diagnosis since a lot of this internal chatter is very specific.


According to the headline(s), the humble “manual” stethoscope is on the edge of obsolescence in the medical world, facing a high-tech upgrade to or even replacement by hand-held devices that apparently do the job better.

The Motherboard post on adopts its title from Adel Birbari's article of the same name, published in the Lebanese Medical Journal in 1999. It suggests that clinicians favour high-tech USB-powered digital over rubber tubing, echoing a point in a press release from the World Heart Federation released the previous year. An article in the Washington Post from January 2016 repeats the call for replacement with something more appropriate to the digital age.

The number one contender to replace the stethoscope is a portable, hand-held ultrasound device, but this is closely followed by digital adaptations ranging from electronic versions to the Eko CORE, a digital add-on that works with the traditional stethoscope to amplify and record sounds.