A couple Canadian researchers, Dr. Neil Skjodt, a pulmonologist, and Bill Hodgetts, an audiologist from the University of Alberta, are trying to use off-the-shelf mp3 players, with built-in microphones, as stethoscopes. Though the microphones in these things are nothing to write home about, the fact that they’re encased in a plastic shell provides for capturing the low resonance notes coming from within the body.
Discerning chest or heart sounds through a stethoscope is more of an art than a science. Recent studies have shown that some medical students have to listen to certain clinical sounds up to 500 times in order to be able to recognize one from the other.
Skjodt tested respiratory specialists in training to see if they had more accurate results with lung sounds recorded on an MP3 player. He said they were better at recognizing common combinations of breath sounds and wheezing using the device, though more subtle sounds were still a problem.
Skjodt and Hodgetts intend to provide subjects with reference recordings – a library of chest sounds in MP3 format – that helps them learn to differentiate one from another. And they are studying whether the devices could help doctors listening for heart and bowel sounds as well.
In an interview, Skjodt said MP3 players offer a variety of options that stethoscopes don’t. Sounds can be recorded and filed for future comparison. MP3 files could also be transmitted over the phone or via the Internet, allowing distant experts to help analyze a problem in, say, a remote setting.
The devices are inexpensive, and can hold medical podcasts or be used as a recorder for dictating notes.
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