Scientists at the University of Western Ontario, aka Western University, have developed a 3D-printed stethoscope. The device costs just $3 to produce and takes less than three hours to print, but maintains the acoustic quality of more expensive stethoscopes. The researchers hope that the device could be useful in low-resource settings, where medical equipment is scarce.
The inspiration for the printed stethoscope came when one of the researchers noticed that a toy stethoscope demonstrated reasonable sound quality. This inspired the research team to try to produce a low-cost stethoscope using recycled plastic and a 3D printer. The result is a low-cost device, which takes less than three hours to produce on a commonly available printer.
In this latest study, the researchers clinically validated the acoustic quality and clinical utility of the stethoscope. “We wanted physicians and allied health care professionals to be able to have something that was high quality,” said Tarek Loubani, a researcher involved in the study. “This study found that the acoustic quality was the same in our stethoscope as in a premium brand stethoscope.”
The stethoscope combines 3D printed plastic components with freely-available and low-cost parts, such as tubing found in soda machines and a plastic diaphragm to detect sound that is cut from plastic sheeting normally used to hold papers. When the components are assembled, the device looks and performs just like a traditional stethoscope, but at a fraction of the cost.
Simple, low-cost medical devices, such as stethoscopes, are vital in low-resource settings. “Stethoscope utility goes up as other resources go down. In London, if someone gets shot, I can use an ultrasound to look inside and see if there is a life-threatening air pocket called a pneumothorax,” said Loubani. “In Gaza, ultrasounds are not available in emergency departments, or are dilapidated, so the stethoscope becomes an inexpensive tool that allows us to make life-saving decisions.”
The team has released the template for the stethoscope and made it freely available, and the code is compatible with free open-source software, so that others can access and use the device easily. “Use of the open source approach in every aspect of this project contributes powerfully to the body of medical device research,” said Gabriella Coleman, an expert on open source software and technology. “This research gives a guide for others to create medical-grade open access devices that can reduce costs and ultimately save lives.”
The team now hopes to develop templates for other 3D printable medical devices that can be easily produced and distributed for use in low-resource settings.
Study in PLOS One: Validation of an effective, low cost, Free/open access 3D-printed stethoscope…
Via: Western University…