New device may spell end for stethoscopes

Thursday, Nov 12, 2015,20:52 IST By metrovaartha A A A

Washington | A new portable device and a smartphone app that can safely identify heart murmurs and other vital sounds during patient exams may replace the iconic stethoscope in future, scientists say.
The technology, called HeartBuds consists of a small, portable plastic listening device shaped much like the head of a traditional stethoscope – which can be plugged into a smartphone, and an app. When the HeartBuds app is activated, sounds from the hand-held device can be played through the smartphone speaker and images appear on the screen showing rhythmic blips that correspond with each sound.
They not only detect sounds inside the body just as well – or better – than traditional stethoscopes, but they are more sanitary, said David Bello, department chief of cardiology at Orlando Health in US, and developer of HeartBuds. And because they incorporate smartphone technology, we can now record, store and share those sounds as well. This could change the way we approach patient exams in the future, said Bello.
Until now, only those wearing the stethoscope could hear what was taking place inside the body, but with this technology health care providers can control the volume, listen to and discuss sounds with patients in real time, and record various sounds for future reference. The technology is great, but we wanted to see how our device actually fared against more traditional stethoscopes.
So we put it to test, said Julio Schwarz, a cardiologist at University of Florida Health who co-authored a clinical trial conducted at Orlando Health. The doctors examined 50 patients and compared the performance of HeartBuds to two class I and class II stethoscopes, as well as a commonly used disposable model.
The study showed that the HeartBuds smartphone-based device performed just as well as the more expensive and more commonly used stethoscopes in detecting heart murmurs and carotid bruits, which are sounds in the neck that indicate moderate to severe blockage of the carotid artery.
Experts found that the disposable stethoscope model they tested missed the presence of heart murmurs 43 per cent of the time, and missed carotid bruits up to 75 per cent of the time. The device can also be used at home. Athletes can use HeartBuds to track their condition and performance, and pregnant women can record sounds of their unborn babies and shared them with friends and family.
Patients with chronic illnesses like Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart failure, for example, can use them to monitor their conditions at home. They can take a recording of their heart and lungs at home, upload them and send them to their doctor, who can evaluate them without the patient ever leaving home if it’s not necessary, said Bello.