News | September 18, 2007

Could an MP3 Replace the Stethoscope?

September 19, 2007 - With better quality sound, reproducibility potential for computer analysis, file-sharing and verification, the MP3 player could be used in place of a traditional stethoscope, reported Neil Skjodt, the Department of Medicine at the University of Alberta, Canada, at the annual Congress of the European Respiratory Society (ERS) in Stockholm, Sweden.

Skjodt based his analysis on the conclusions of several recent studies, including a Danish study that showed that medical staff at all levels had difficulty distinguishing most heart and lung sounds, and that their performance barely improved when they used an electronic stethoscope.

In the study presented at ERS, investigators pressed the MP3 microphone directly to the chest and were able to record a range of respiratory sounds with different patterns.
"The quality, clarity and purity of the loud sounds were better than I have ever heard with a stethoscope," noted Skjodt at ERS. The MP3 files were later transferred to a computer and converted into frequency curves. Computer analysis of the stored sounds showed that each had a distinct signature. The computer occassionally had difficulty in processing complex or quiet breathing sounds.

Skjodt then tested respiratory specialists to identify the MP3 recordings of breath sounds. Wheezing noises were recognized much better than in similar historic studies, but differences in baseline breath sounds and in recognizing combinations were still not better than chance.

Other advantages to using an MP3 device instead of a stethoscope are that the recorded breathing sounds can be included in the patient’s file for future reference, be sent to a specialist or post-processed for particularly detailed analysis and can be used like an ordinary dictaphone for medical reports.

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