The iconic stethoscope we’ve grown accustomed to seeing draped around the necks of doctors and healthcare providers may one day be replaced by smartphones and a new wearable device, called HeartBuds, which is slightly larger than a quarter.
“They not only detect sounds inside the body as well – or better – than traditional stethoscopes, but they’re more hygienic,” said David Bello, MD, chief of the cardiology department at Orlando Health and developer of HeartBuds. . “And because they incorporate smartphone technology, we can now record, store and share these sounds as well. It could change the way we approach patient exams in the future.”
The stethoscope was invented in 1816 by the French physician René Laennec and has hardly changed since. But on the eve of its 200th anniversary, the emergence of this new technology could mark the beginning of the end of this medical pillar.
With HeartBuds, doctors use a small, portable plastic listening device shaped like the head of a traditional stethoscope. Instead of being attached to a Y-shaped tube that feeds the doctor’s ears, this device is however plugged into a smartphone.
When the app is activated, sounds from the portable device can be played through the smartphone speaker and images appear on the screen showing rhythmic beeps that correspond to each sound. Until now, only those who wore the stethoscope could hear what was going on inside the body, but with this technology, healthcare providers can control the volume, listen and discuss sounds with patients in time. real and record various sounds for future reference.
“The technology is great, but we wanted to see how our device actually performed compared to more traditional stethoscopes,” said Julio Schwarz, cardiologist at the University of Florida Health and co-author of a recent clinical trial at Orlando Health. “So we put them to the test.”
The results of the study, comparing the effectiveness of HeartBuds to three other models of stethoscopes, were presented in November at the 2015 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions held in Orlando, Florida.
In total, doctors examined 50 patients and compared the performance of the HeartBuds to two FDA-approved Class I and Class II stethoscopes, as well as a commonly used disposable model.
The results of the study showed that the HeartBuds smartphone-based device performed as well as the more expensive and more commonly used Class I and Class II stethoscopes used to detect heart murmurs and carotid sounds, which are sounds in the body. neck that indicate moderate to severe blockage of the carotid artery.
However, experts found that the disposable stethoscope model they tested missed the presence of heart murmurs 43% of the time and carotid sounds up to 75% of the time.
“It’s very disconcerting,” said Valerie Danesh, RN, PH.D, head of clinical research and grants at Orlando Health and study author. “Many facilities have started using disposable models after several studies, especially overseas, have shown that there may be a potential 30-40% risk of transmitting harmful bacteria through stethoscopes.” , she said. “These results may lead some to reconsider this practice.”
When not using disposable models, healthcare providers traditionally use the same, better and more expensive stethoscope, on dozens of patients every day, or even hundreds of patients per week. Despite their best efforts to keep the stethoscope head clean, it is in the atria of the stethoscope that bacteria often gather and have the potential to be transmitted to patients.
“Because the HeartBuds device doesn’t have earbuds, we don’t have to worry about it anymore,” said Arnold Einhorn, MD, cardiologist and medical co-director of the Orlando Health Heart Institute and developer of HeartBuds. “This device is much cheaper to produce and offers a safer alternative to traditional, disposable models without sacrificing sound quality,” Einhorn said.
Beyond patient examinations, HeartBuds is also found to have other applications. “I am involved in the training of many medical students and residents,” said Schwarz. “Being able to listen to sounds with them, in real time, provides me with an invaluable educational tool.”
They can also be used at home. Athletes use HeartBuds to track their condition and performance, and pregnant women have recorded their babies’ sounds from the womb and shared them with friends and family all over the world.
“Although only trained healthcare providers can use HeartBuds as a diagnostic tool, they have many other uses,” Bello said. Patients with chronic conditions like COPD and heart failure, for example, can use them to monitor their condition at home. “They can take a recording of their heart and lungs at home, download it and send it to their doctor, who can evaluate them without the patient leaving the house if not needed,” Bello said. . “Really, the possibilities are endless and the future of this technology is only emerging.”