Written by Ami B. Bhatt, MD
Healthcare is changing faster than it ever has before. In large part, it is because of smartphone apps and mobile devices. These exciting products let people take their health into their own hands. We spend a lot of time measuring steps, moods, heart rates, blood pressures, and even more complicated things like glucose (sugar) levels. The past several months have been exciting as the FDA approved iPhone EKG devices/apps and most recently, a wireless digital stethoscope. The mobile app and device market is changing, moving from providing individuals information about themselves, to giving doctors the key information they need.
Several companies have come out with digital stethoscopes. At the 200th anniversary of the stethoscope, the tube that sends sounds to the doctor’s ears is getting a makeover. New digital stethoscopes allow doctors to hear sounds differently, and record them. Some can wirelessly transmit to a laptop or a mobile application on a smartphone to download sounds. Medical schools use these stethoscopes to record sounds and teach students. The stethoscopes can filter out ambient or distracting noises and you can dial sounds up or down to hear them better. All that, and it’s available on Amazon.
Can you hear me now?
The most recent versions of the digital stethoscope technology can record the sound waves and save the images. Now, a sound can be heard and seen my multiple doctors. Integration with electronic medical records will come next as these sounds and their visual equivalent will become share-able between caregivers and health systems. Today, a heart murmur heard in a small local emergency room might need a cardiology consult, or a transfer to a larger metropolitan hospital. Without being able to examine someone, it is challenging for a cardiologist to simply give advice to a hospital that is hours away. With the digital audio, the cardiologist can now “hear” the patient without being there, potentially changing the way they receive care.
Leveling the playing field
What’s next? Taking those visual sound patterns and analyzing them. With our ability to analyze big data, the wireless stethoscope devices are now moving to build in pattern recognition to their software so that classic sound patterns will suggest a diagnosis to the physician. Right now, the physical exam information ends in the doctors ears, and any changes, nuances, or instincts about disease are in the doctor’s head. With audio files and sound patterns in the medical record, that information is available to everyone, and with pattern recognition, even caregivers with less experience might be able to correctly diagnose a problem. The stethoscope would level the playing field.
Not so fast. Cardiologists will not be replaced (lucky for me), but the ability to provide state of the art care to patients in the areas where they live might become a reality as these devices and telemedicine start to emerge simultaneously in the community. Access to care is an ever present issue, so if with careful study and application of novel devices we can expand the reach of each cardiologist, then maybe the rebirth of the stethoscope on its 200th anniversary is a revolution for cardiology as a whole.
Dr. Bhatt specializes in lifelong care and empowerment of Teens and Adults with Congenital Heart Disease, addressing valve problems, heart failure, multidisciplinary surgery, arrhythmia, pregnancy, transition, telemedicine & wellness programs.