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Will the Stethoscope Soon Become an Old Friend?

By Haripriya Kungumaraj


Every medical student’s journey starts with a white coat and a stethoscope, but these 200-year-old devices are slowly becoming an endangered species. Stethoscopes have become a staple in the medical community since their invention. There is more of an emotional link to it than a technical one - “If I don’t have it around my shoulders, it’s as though I was feeling almost naked…” expresses Dr. Drelicharz, a pediatrician for more than 10 years [1].


The disc of the stethoscope amplifies the sound of the lungs, the heart, and other sounds inside the body. Then, the tube makes the sound travel until it reaches the ear. The stethoscope allows doctors to hear what is going on inside the body, but a new handheld ultrasound device called the - Butterfly IQ, goes as far as giving us an image of what is happening inside the body. “As a matter of fact, stethoscope is a misnomer,” says Dr. Narula, a professor of cardiology, referring to how the “scope” part of the stethoscope suggests that it is being used for looking at something. “Now that we have ultrasound, we have a real ‘stethoscope’ in our hand,” Narula concludes [2]. The Butterfly IQ, instead of getting soundwaves from a vibrating crystal, like other ultrasounds it sends soundwaves into the body using “9000 tiny drums etched onto a semiconductor chip” [4]. This flashy device can also be connected to a smartphone and the results will be easily viewed and shared, eliminating the need for additional tests and cutting short the time.


Dr. Sarkar, an emergency physician took this device with him on a weeklong trip to Jordan. He helped provide treatment of the Syrian victims, and his review was, “On average, in each ten-hour clinic day, we scanned 20 patients of all ages with a variety of chief complaints”[5]. This review is a perfect example of the sophistication of this device and its advantages.


However, the price range of the ultrasound,$2000 as compared to the $50 stethoscope, might be the reason it is not found yet in every doctor’s pocket. These new devices also need doctors to take up extra training so that the chance of a misdiagnosis is decreased. In some colleges, medical students are being trained from the first year to use such devices, but in some places in the world, this new technological development still remains unknown. It is noted that a “generation of physicians will need to be trained to view this technology as an extension of their senses, just as many generations have viewed the stethoscope”[3].


The stethoscope, a symbol often used to denote health care providers might be on its deathbed. Departing from it will be bittersweet yet inevitable in the long run.



References

1. English, V. L. (2019, November 03). Will New Devices Replace the Stethoscope? Retrieved from https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/will-new-devices-replace-the-stethoscope-/5137681.html Retrieved on 2020, October 5

2. Is The Stethoscope Going Extinct? (2014, January 24). Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/stethoscope-replaced-ultrasound-devices_n_4658869

Retrieved on 2020, October 7

3. Galehouse, M., Pierce, S., & George, C. (2019, August 16). Could a Handheld Ultrasound Replace the Stethoscope? Retrieved from https://www.tmc.edu/news/2018/04/solutions-could-a-handheld-ultrasound-replace-the-stethoscope/

Retrieved on 2020, October 5

4. Team, the Healthline Wellness. “Butterfly IQ: An IPhone Ultrasound Saved This Doctor's Life.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 17 Apr. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/butterflyiq-ultrasound-iphone-cancer.

Retrieved on 2020, October 8

5. Sarkar, Debjeet. Product Review: Butterfly IQ Ultrasound. 4 Nov. 2019, epmonthly.com/article/product-review-butterfly-iq-ultrasound/.

Retrieved on 2020, October 20

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