In 1819, a physician rolled a paper booklet into a long, narrow cylinder and put it to the chest of patient who had chest pains. He placed his ear at the other end, and heard a loud heart murmur. Thus, the stethoscope was invented.
Auscultation, or listening to the heart, has been one of the most important means of assessing cardiovascular diseases and remains the primary diagnostic tool for detecting heart murmurs, valve problems or various lung conditions.
Dr. Michael Barrett, a clinical associate
professor of medicine and a cardiologist
in the School of Medicine and Temple Hospital, has also contributed to revolutionizing the way physicians listen to the heart.
By playing recordings in class, he has been teaching his students to recognize the distinctive sounds of heart murmurs.
Barrett also gave students CDs of heart sounds to listen to at home. Repetition is the key to improving their skills in accurately diagnosing the different sounds made by various heart problems, he said. His students, however, took his CD idea a step further and surprised him when they downloaded the heart murmur sounds onto their iPods.
“On a pre-test, students got about 37 percent of the heart murmurs correctly,” Barrett said. “After they downloaded them on their iPods, all three classes [first, second and third year medical students] scored 90 percent higher on the post-test.”
Failure to recognize murmurs means physicians fail to know what treatment the patient needs, Barrett added.
In the medical field, if a cardiologist is unable to clearly hear heart murmurs in a patient, they have to resort to an echocardiogram, which is a very expensive ultrasound test. More than 500 students at the School of Medicine are using iPods as a study tool. All heart sounds, which were formerly recorded on CDs, are online and are a part of the class curriculum. Barrett said he thinks there is an increasing interest in listening to heart sounds, adding that third-year medical students at Drexel University are also using this method.
Jodi Washinsky, a fourth-year medical student, was a bit skeptical when she first heard that iPods were being used as teaching tools. She only used her iPod to listen to music. It since has been a tremendous help, as she is able to listen to it at the gym or on her way to school, instead of reading
“It’s easy to hear someone give a lecture on how a heart murmur should sound, but it’s another thing to be able to listen for it with a stethoscope and have to figure it out on a patient,” Washinsky said.
She added that using an iPod serves as real practice for hearing heart murmurs outside of the classroom.
“I actually know what I’m listening for,” Washinsky said.
Another tool used in the medical field is the electronic stethoscope, which blocks out excessive noise and unrelated sounds using direct amplification combined with fixed and adjustable filters. Using this tool, a physician can hear a patient’s
heart and lungs clearly in high-noise environments and even through layers of clothing.
“I think the electronic stethoscope will replace regular scopes in five to 10 years,” Barrett said.
Kenyatta Joseph can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.