As high-tech era tips the scale in favour of newer devices, stethoscope’s fate hangs in balance – ET HealthWorld

New Delhi: For more than 200 years doctors have become dependent on this reliable medical devices Asking, palpating, listening and drawing accurate conclusions about what ails the patient. Until technology changed it. With echocardiograms and nifty pocket-sized ultrasound devices making their way into the diagnostics field, a recent conference aye And the health service at the Bombay Hospital in the Marine Lines became a forum for doctors to deliberate on the fate of this iconic medical relic. stethoscope And whether the revered art of “auscultation” – the act of detecting pathologies by listening to sounds from the heart, lungs or other organs – might actually follow the path of the mirror in the doctor’s head and vanish. In 2016, when the stethoscope hit its bicentennial milestone, The Guardian wrote how instead of celebrating its age, Dr. Jagat Narula, a leading Indian-origin cardiologist in New York, declared that the world was beginning its end. Can see. The stethoscope is dead,” while W. Reed Thompson, associate professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, countered. Closer to home, the medical fraternity is completely divided.

According to interventional cardiologist Dr Satyavan Sharma, advancements in technology will reduce dependence on traditional stethoscopes. He predicts the analog version – where doctors listen to the heart and lungs by placing a probe in the patient’s ears and chest cavity – will face fierce competition from electronic, digital and now AI-powered versions. “Gradually, the shape will change. Doctors will walk around with AI-enabled devices instead of using their ears and brain,” says Sharma, adding that AI-based devices have the ability to analyze and diagnose instantly, limiting manual interpretation.

However, respiratory specialist Dr Lancelot Pinto scoffs at the idea of ​​a stethoscope-less world in medical practice. “It has just evolved in different ways,” he says, adding that AI-based technologies now include acoustic analysis, such as the one he developed at IIT that can connect to a stethoscope, record and display graphically. Sounds can be analyzed and transmitted through it. Bluetooth or an app. “But these advances do not mean that the stethoscope is unnecessary as the first point of contact with a patient,” says Pinto.

The stethoscope can detect heart murmurs for cardiac irregularities, lung sounds for respiratory problems, and bowel sounds for gastrointestinal evaluation.

However, many of these tasks are now being performed by new-age diagnostic equipment, sometimes with greater efficiency, said Dr Arun Nayak, head of gynecology at LTMG (Sion) Hospital. For example, fetal Doppler machines are excellent at hearing the fetal heartbeat before pregnancy, he said. “It would be foolish to think that the stethoscope will not change with technology,” Dr. Nayak said.

Six months ago, the UK had launched a program under which they planned to deploy AI-enabled smart stethoscopes to 100 general practitioners to aid in early diagnosis of heart failure. However, Dr Sharma believes that countries like India will remain dependent on traditional stethoscopes for a longer time than others due to their ease of use and affordability.

Interestingly, despite advances, the classic instrument remains the cornerstone of diagnosis taught in all medical colleges. “Medicine cannot be taught unless students learn to interpret heart murmurs and stomach sounds,” said Dr. Nitin Karnik, an internal medicine specialist.

The real issue, Dr. Pinto said, is that the skill to use the equipment has diminished among today’s physicians. “What is happening is that students are not being trained to use stethoscopes as they used to because now there is a tendency to do tests left, right and centre,” he said.

Cardiologist Dr Sharma agrees that not just the stethoscope but the entire art of clinical diagnosis is under threat. “The moment you meet a patient, start a conversation, and then examine them physically, it’s about building a relationship. That relationship could be broken,” Sharma said. He is not ready to say goodbye to his trusted companion yet. “He will be my companion till the end,” he assured.

  • Published on May 5, 2024 at 01:09 PM IST

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