The stethoscope is one of the most important tools of the EMT’s medical kit. In emergency and pre-hospital situations they are used for much more than determining blood pressure, and so should be of a minimum acoustic quality. As an EMT or Paramedic, you are the first medical practitioner on the scene, and a physical examination with an EMT stethoscope at first contact has life and death consequences for the patient.
As an EMT or Paramedic, you may be wondering what type of stethoscope you should purchase. Do you really need your own EMT stethoscope? Does it matter what type you get?
We recommend every EMT and Paramedic invest in their own stethoscope. No two stethoscopes are the same, and the more you familiarise yourself with your own stethoscope, the better your auscultation skills become. The job requires you to be the first to quickly identify life-threatening conditions such as Tension Pneumothorax or Lung effusions – conditions that can’t always wait till the patient reaches hospital to be diagnosed. The reality is that an EMT that has invested time in developing good auscultation skills is leagues beyond those that do not.
The best stethoscopes for EMTs will permit you to hear clear heart and lung sounds in the harsh and noisy environments that you operate in.
An EMT stethoscope will also be sturdy, lightweight, durable, and worth your money.
If it’s your first time buying your own EMT stethoscope and you’re not sure which one to get, we break down the process of choosing the best stethoscope below.
If you want to cut right to the chase and want to know the top stethoscopes for EMT, as chosen by our team of health professionals, here you go…
Top Stethoscopes for EMTs and Paramedics
- Littmann Classic II S.E.
- Littmann Lightweight
- Littmann Master Classic
- Littmann Cardiology III
- Littmann Master Cardiology
1. Types of Stethoscopes – Is There Really A Difference Between an EMT Stethoscope and a Regular Stethoscope?
Believe it or not, there are different types of stethoscopes. Each has a distinct intended use.
Selecting the right stethoscope for the job needed is crucial…
You don’t want to use a stethoscope designed for veterinarians, do you? Of course not!
So you might be wondering…
What are the different types of stethoscopes and which one should I use as an EMT?
Stethoscopes are available in different versions.
Acoustic Stethoscopes – Most Common of The Common
Acoustic stethoscopes are the most familiar type. Their mode of operation consists of the transmission of sound from a chest piece through hollow tubes to the listener’s ears.
The chest piece consists of two parts: the diaphragm and the bell. The diaphragm is a plastic disc, which is placed on the patient’s skin.
Sounds from the body of the patient cause the diaphragm to vibrate, resulting in sound traveling up the tubes to the medical professional’s ears.
The bell is a hollow cup, which is used to listen to low-frequency sounds. This stethoscope is based in the two-sided Rappaport-Sprague stethoscope of the 20th century.
This type is the best stethoscope paramedic or EMT. You will most likely use this type of stethoscope.
Electronic Stethoscopes – We Are in The Electronic Age
Electronic stethoscopes overcome the low sound levels of acoustic stethoscopes by amplifying body sounds electronically.
Sound detection was once achieved by placing a microphone in the chest piece. But since this method resulted in excessive ambient noise interference, it is no longer used.
Another method for hearing sound with an electronic stethoscope is the placement of a piezoelectric crystal at the head of a metal shaft.
The Welch-Allen Meditron stethoscope uses this method. Electromagnetic diaphragms with conductive inner surfaces are the best of both worlds.
The electromagnetic diaphragm responds to sound waves in the same fashion as an acoustic stethoscope with the added benefit of sound amplification.
Electronic stethoscopes can also be attached to recording devices.
Unless you got the money, these are way outside the typical budget of an EMT.
Fetal Stethoscopes – The Next Generation
Fetal stethoscopes are shaped like a listening trumpet. They are placed against the abdomen of a pregnant woman to listen to the sound of the baby’s heartbeat.
This type of stethoscope is also called a Pinard horn or Pinard’s stethoscope, after the French obstetrician Adolphe Pinard.
It gets worse…
Are EMTs really going to use this to hear fetal heart tones in the field?
No, you’re not going to do this. Great for an OBGY office though!
Doppler Stethoscopes – Let There Be Sound
The Doppler stethoscope is an electronic device used to measure the Doppler effect of ultrasound waves reflected from interior organs of the body. This type of stethoscope is especially suited for dealing with moving objects such as a beating heart.
Doppler stethoscopes are useful for detecting the subtle sounds that are next to impossible to hear with a standard stethoscope.
Dopplers are great for emergency rooms or operating rooms. Its not conducive to the back of an ambulance.
Both classic and Doppler auscultation is complementary methods in determining the health of a patient.
Cardiology Stethoscopes – The Pump of the Body
Hearing heart tones and sounds is very difficult. Being able to differentiate between these sounds takes a tremendous amount of practice.
But let’s be honest, trying to hear heart murmurs in hectic environments that EMTs work in is not going to happen.
These types of stethoscopes are designed for the Cardiologists in the ‘perfect’ environment. The Littmann Cardiology III is a fine example of a cardiology stethoscope if you have the money to afford the best. Check it out by clicking here.
Pediatric Stethoscopes – The Smallest of the Small
Pediatric stethoscope for EMTs are needed. Let’s just get that out there now.
These are designed with smaller bells and diaphragms. This will enhance the quality of sound.
Lung Sounds are crucial when treating pediatric patients.
What’s the bottom line?
You will need a good stethoscope for pediatrics. Hearing those lung sounds after placing an airway adjunct is essential.
While some Departments or Agencies place a ‘pediatric stethsocope’ in the pediatric bag, you should consider purchasing a stethoscope that has a small bell or diaphragm on one side just for this little patients.
If you want a dedicated pediatric stethoscope, click here to check out this one by Littmann.
2. What is the Best Stethoscope for EMTs?
EMT stethoscopes are available in various styles. These include:
- Single-head and single tube
- Dual-head and dual tube (Rappaport –Sprague)
- Dual-head and single tube
- Multifunction head
Each type of stethoscope has its own price range and a different application. Every EMT should have his or her own personal “scope.” There are several benefits to owning your own scope:
- You always know where it is.
- You never need to deal with other people’s ear wax buildup.
- You get to know your scope very well.
Owning a high-end stethoscope may actually backfire on you as high-end stethoscopes ‘walk away’ when left unattended.
Let’s face it. It’s simply a fact of life. It can happen on a chaotic scene of a cardiac arrest, or in the ER when you leave it behind.
It’s important to ensure that the scope you choose will provide the support you need to effectively get your job done.
Both single-head/single tube and dual-head/single tube stethoscopes work well for EMTs.
Emergency scenes are often noisy, making it difficult to hear a heartbeat or listen to lung noises.
Double-sided, or dual-headed, stethoscopes are designed to combat this common concern.
However, because the double-sided feature may confuse new EMTs, a single-sided stethoscope may be a better choice for them. Or, just train with them so that you know how to use them properly!
When choosing a stethoscope, it’s ideal to select one with latex-free tubes, or lumens. A latex-free stethoscope can be safely used on patients who suffer from latex allergies.
There are several brands out there. MDF, Welch Allyn, Ultrascope to name a few. But the Littmann Stethoscope is known in the medical field as some of the best out there. Click here to learn more about Littmann.
But here’s the kicker…
You have to find one that works best for you.
Thats right, that works best for you. It’s gotta fit within your budget, great sound qualities, fit well, not too heavy, and have some great reviews!
Here’s some of the meat and potatoes of what to look for….
3. Using a Stethoscope to Check for Lung Sounds
The “Big Three” vital signs are pulse, pressure and respiratory sounds. These are the mainstay of vital signs. Yes, there are other like ETCO2, EKGs, Glucose Check, and so on.
But… the lung sounds clue you in on so much more like…
- Fluid in the lunges
- Constriction of the airways
- Tube Placement confirmation
- Stridor or closing of the airway
- Partial obstructions
Here’s the deal…
Learn how to properly listen and interrupt the sounds will have a huge impact on the quality of care you give.
If the patient’s breathing is extremely shallow, you’ll have a more difficult time in determining lung sounds.
If the patient is breathing rapidly, you’ll have a hard time trying to hear the lung sounds.
What’s the bottom line?
When you have a critical patient, lungs sounds are crucial.
Wheezing, is it expiratory or inspiratory. Isn’t this important to understand what’s going on with our patient?
Is it rales or rhonchi? Does it change the way you will treat your patient?
Of course the answers to these questions are yes. You need the best stethoscope to hear these sounds.
4. Checking Blood Pressure – A Vital Sign of Signs
When using a scope to auscultate blood pressure, avoid pressing the head on the skin.
A light touch is all that is needed. Some EMTs make the mistake of using the head of the scope to locate the pulse point.
Using this method may prevent you from finding the strongest pulse point in a loud environment.
Palpate the pulse point with your fingers on the inside of the patient’s elbow until you find the strongest point of the pulse.
You can then use your stethoscope to listen.
‘Scope on the Skin
When auscultating a patient’s chest, be sure to place the stethoscope directly on the skin.
You might be wondering…
“Why? The stethoscope packaging says that it will work through three layers of clothing.”
It also makes it harder to diagnose what you’re hearing.
Subtle sounds such as rales, crackles, friction rubs and rhonchi will also be hard to hear through clothing.
No matter what the packaging says, you will obtain a more accurate assessment than if you listen through the patient’s clothing.
If the patient’s chest is bloody or contaminated, place the head of the stethoscope in an examination glove to protect it.
After contact with each patient, disinfect your scope.
5. The Germy ‘Scope – We Love Infectious Control!
Have you ever wondered just how dirty a stethoscope can be?
A study performed by an emergency room showed that 33 percent of the stethoscopes used by EMTs in a 24-hour period were able to be used to culture MRSA.
When you’re cleaning up in the back of the rig, use an antimicrobial wipe or another disinfectant to clean your stethoscope.
6. Features of the Best Stethoscope for EMT
The best stethoscope for EMT usage features superb sound quality without breaking the bank.
The Littmann Classic II S.E. is equipped with sound-reduction technology that helps block ambient noise at chaotic emergency scenes. This can easily be said as the best Littmann stethoscope for paramedics and EMTs.
This stethoscope is also considered the best stethoscope for EMT students as well. The reputation of this set of ears is so good, it is also in the running for the best stethoscope for nurses. Not too shabby, huh?
Since EMTs perform basic blood pressure work and physical examination with their stethoscopes, this basic scope will get the job done admirably.
The ear buds to the ideal stethoscope will be comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Buds with a forward pointing angle will fit snugly in the wearer’s ears.
No one wants to have a heavy scope weighing them down. The ideal stethoscope should no be too heavy and be able to help you do your job of saving lives. If weight is a serious consideration for you, then click here to check out this specifically lightweight design.
If you want one that is of higher acoustic qualities and don’t mind spending alittle bit of money, then you should look at the Littmann Master Classic II. It offers acoustic qualities a step up from the Classic II SE. Click here to check it out.
Now, if you got the money, the best of the best would be the Cardiology III. The overall craftsmanship is unbelievable as well as the ability to hear is some challenging environments. Check it out by clicking here.
We provide insanely detailed EMT and Paramedic Stethoscope Reviews.
7. EMT Stethoscope Reviews
To compare the different EMT stethoscopes, simply click and hold on the name of the stethoscope you wish to compare while dragging it to a spot.
Some great information will populate as well as a picture. There are two tabs at the bottom of each, one to view the price and the other to see our full review. Check it out now, it’s a pretty cool tool just for you!
Best Stethoscopes for EMT
Well, if you’ve made it this far, congratulations! We can’t believe we’ve put this much information in this post!
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