New York: Two centuries after its invention, the ubiquitous stethoscope may be on the way out -- a smaller device connected through an app to smartphones may replace the old Y-shaped instrument.
The new portable device is named HeartBuds.
"They not only detect sounds inside the body just as well -- or better -- than traditional stethoscopes, but they are more sanitary," said David Bello, chief of cardiology at Orlando Health, who developed HeartBuds.
"And because they incorporate smartphone technology, we can now record, store and share those sounds as well. This could change the way we approach patient exams in the future," Bello said.
The stethoscope was invented in 1816 by French physician René Laennec, and has essentially remained unchanged since. But on the eve of its 200th anniversary, the emergence of this new technology could mark the beginning of the end for this medical mainstay.
With HeartBuds, doctors use a small, portable plastic listening device shaped much like the head of a traditional stethoscope.
Instead of being attached to a Y-shaped tube that feeds into the doctor's ears, however, this device is plugged into a smartphone.
When the app is activated, sounds from the hand-held device can be played through the smartphone speaker and images appear on the screen showing rhythmic blips that correspond with each sound.
In all, doctors examined 50 patients and compared the performance of HeartBuds to two FDA-approved class I and class II stethoscopes, as well as a commonly used disposable model.
Results of the study showed that the HeartBuds smartphone-based device performed just as well as the more expensive and more commonly used class I and class II stethoscopes in detecting heart murmurs and carotid bruits, which are sounds in the neck that indicate moderate to severe blockage of the carotid artery.
However, experts found that the disposable stethoscope model they tested missed the presence of heart murmurs 43 percent of the time, and missed carotid bruits up to 75 percent of the time.
The findings of the study were presented at The American Heart Association's 2015 Scientific Sessions held in Orlando, Florida.