There’s an article making the rounds about the apparent demise of stethoscopes:
As physicians rely on more accurate and expensive tests of cardiac function, including echocardiography, the art of listening to the heart has fallen on hard times. In recent years, a spate of studies has shown that as few as 20 percent of new doctors and 40 percent of practicing primary-care doctors can discern the difference between a healthy and a sick heart just by listening to the chorus of whooshes, lub-dubs, gallops and rubs that compose the distinctive music of the human heart.
But all is not lost! One doctor is making the case that listening to patients’ hearts is good medicine (and may be cost-effective):
Using computer-generated “templates” of diseased heart sounds, which are free of background noise or pesky distractions such as chest hair or fat layers, Barrett had 80 students listen to each of six sounds at least 500 times. (Most students promptly converted the CDs to MP3 files and downloaded them to their iPods, he said.)
By year’s end, the “intensive repetition” group raised its ability to recognize those sounds to 89 percent of the time.
The bottom line: it’s on the exam, so docs will have to take these lessons to heart:
Starting in 2000, internal medicine doctors who renew their board certification in the specialty (a step required every 10 years) have had to pass an examination of stethoscope skills.
More from a recent piece in Time on Dr. Barrett’s auscultation education.