Guide to Electronic Stethoscopes
What is an electronic stethoscope? What is an amplifying stethoscope? Are they the same thing? Which one is the best? (View our top ranked Electronic stethoscopes here.)
Over the years, technology has brought us huge advancements in healthcare, illness preventtion, and diagnostic detection of health problems.
However, one of the most important tools we use to monitor health on a daily basis has remained shockingly unchanged for many decades. Until now…
Electronic stethoscopes are the wave of the future, bringing with them incredible capabilities and benefits. Here’s everything you need to know about them:
What Is an Electronic Stethoscope?
How does an electronic stethoscope work? And crucially, how are they different from amplifying stethoscopes?
The technology is still relatively new, and as a result each model functions slightly differnetly. But they are different from traditional stethoscooes in that the sound collection, transmission, and amplification are entirely electronic. They collect acoustic sound waves though a microphone placed on the body, and translates these collected sounds into digitial signals. This allows the sound to be encoded, decoded, amplified, or manipulated.
Electronic stethoscopes are designed to be used with headphones, or attached to a recording and listening device.
Most clinicans will recognize a difference in sound character when using an electronic stethoscope compared to a traditional model. Some find the “electronic” character of the sound distracts from their ability to use electronic stethoscopes, while others get used to it very quickly and successfully adopt the technology.
Not all electronic Stethoscopes are Equal.
Some electronic stethoscopes are very simple and are in fact little more than a microphone and amplifyer. These will tend to collect large amounts of ambient noise. Other more expensive models of electronic stethoscopes contain a piece of a piezoelectric crystal in the headpiece with the sound collecting diaphragm. Yet others will employ an electromagnetic diaphragm with a conductive inner surface forming a capacitive sensor, which responds to sound waves like to a traditional acoustic stethoscope, using changes in air pressure to collect sound.
The best electronic stethoscopes use a combination of acoustic sound with electronic amplification to create the perfect marriage.
The fact that electronic stethoscopes produce digital, or electric sound pulses means that health care professionals are provided with the ability to control more than the volume of their stethoscopes. Selective sound waves can be amplified or cancelled, reducing ambient noise. Algorithms programmed within the electronic stethoscopes are developing the ability to recognize normal and abnormal body sounds, much like ECG machines these days are able to recognize rhytm patterns.
What is the difference between an Electronic Stethoscope and an Amplifying Stethoscope?
Many people use these terms interchangeably, but stricktly speaking an electronic stethoscope collects acoustic sound, but turns this into digital sounds before transmitting or processing. Amplifying stethoscopes still work largely like a traditional acoustic stethoscope, but with the added ability of amplifying sounds, or recording small sections of sound for replay.
Amplifying stethoscopes still look like a traditional stethoscope with a diaphragm, tube, and ear pieces. Electronic stethoscops may look nothing like a traditional stethoscope, with only a single device that contains the diaphragm and machine. Electronic stethoscopes will have headphone ports, or transmit sound to a speaker, computer, or recording device.
Top reasons to use an Electronic Stethoscope
Sound amplification: The most obvious benefit of electronic and amplifying stethoscopes is that you can hear better and louder – a huge benefit in noisy ward environments, or in the pre-hospital care environment. The degree of amplification varies between models and brands but is generally at least 24x.
Selective Recording: this feature of electronic stethoscopes is gaining it widespread attention and adoption. With the ability to record sound segments from an auscultation exam comes to ability to store interesting sounds either for medical training and teaching purposes, or even to add to a patient’s file. Recordings can be used in multidisciplinary meetings, used for collaboration, presented at conferences, etc. Previously recording auscultation was a costly and bothersome process. Now anyone with an electronic or amplifying stethoscope is able to do so.
Ambient Noise Reduction: my converting the sound into electronic signals, the sophisticated algorithms are able to remove ambient noise to a remarkable degree, leaving just the body sound frequencies being examined.
Health professionals who are hard of hearing benefit greatly from electronic stethoscopes, as the ability to control the volume on a stethoscope can be a life saver and dramatically improve one’s ascultation ability.
This leads to more confidence in your medical deduction, and less frustration. In an already stressful work environment, cutting unnecessary frustrations can be imperative for your heath.
As a healthcare professional, people’s lives are in your hands every single day.
It’s a huge responsibility. It’s only natural that you would want the very best equipment to help you do your job.
What Else Can You Do With an Electronic Stethoscope?
You may think that simply being able to control the volume on your electronic stethoscope is mind blowing enough.
However, due to the digital output, there are many new uses of stethoscopes that could never be done with an acoustic stethoscope.
For one, you can broadcast the readings of an electronic stethoscope over a sounds system.
This means that education, conferencing, and collaboration can go much faster and much more smoothly.
Now a team of nurses and doctors do not need to gather around an already uncomfortable patient and take turns listening to a heartbeat, or wheezing in the lungs.
They can all listen at once. Also, classes may all hear stethoscope readings at once and in real time.
Another groundbreaking application of the electronic stethoscope is that most of them are equipped with the ability to record sound.
This way a nurse, doctor, CNA or any other healthcare professional can actually record auditory readings on their stethoscope and allow others to listen to them.
Not only can you record sound, but you can also save those recordings to a phone or computer which means you will have the ability to go back and listen to recordings in the future.
The applications for this feature are positively infinite.
You can save recordings for future reference in continued care of individual patients.
You can also use these recordings for teaching classes training others in health care sciences.
These recordings can also be used to gain opinions and flag concerns with other health care and medical professionals to diagnose, treat, and study complicated diseases and problems in individual patients, and to compare privately to other patients in experimental treatments.
What Are the Software Applications?
Beyond their built in abilities, some companies have developed specific software applications for their electronic stethoscopes that can be a major benefit for you, and your patients.
For example Littmann has created a software that allows you to transfer recordings of heart and lung sounds into visual charts for deeper analysis.
Zargis has also created software for electronic stethoscopes that helps health care professionals detect heart murmurs from audio recordings of heartbeats.
These amazing programs are just a few of the many software programs available for use in conjunction with electronic stethoscopes.
These programs help streamline necessary equipment, and are useful for many purposes that will help you take care of your patients better.
These life saving programs will not only be more convenient for you, but will be a huge benefit to all of your patients as these programs are designed to help you identify quite a few serious and often life threatening health concerns.
What’s the Price Range for Electronic Stethoscopes?
Electronic stethoscopes themselves can range anywhere between $80-$500 dollars with some models costing even more.
Even though the price is on the higher side for stethoscopes they are truly worth the price for all their available applications, software, and many other major benefits that are totally unavailable with any other type of stethoscope on the market.
What Kind of Accessories Can You Get For Electronic Stethoscopes?
You can swap out the traditional headphones with higher sound quality over ear headphones, more ergonomic ear buds, and some even have noise canceling features for less outside noise interference.
There’s more. Some models provide attachments that can wireless sync your stethoscope to your smartphone or your computer where you can save, download, and send recordings for future reference, or to alert other healthcare professionals of concerns instantly.
If volume control isn’t enough, there are electronic stethoscope amplifiers for the hearing impaired so your hearing troubles do not interfere with your talents as a health care professional.
That’s not all.
Some models also provide direct wire input devices to download recordings from your stethoscope to your computer with ease.
Even if your Wi-Fi is having trouble, these direct connections will ensure that you still are able to upload all the recordings you need to provide excellent health care with the utmost of ease.
Other Benefits of an Electronic Stethoscope
Electronic stethoscopes are lightweight and comfortable to wear, carry, and use.
Plus, with their ergonomic accessory options, you can customize a stethoscope that is perfect for your hearing and comfort.
Gone are the days of a “one stethoscope suits all”. With electronic stethoscopes you truly get to have it your way.
Another wonderful benefit of having an electronic microscope is that they come with an LCD display screen built on to it which shows the heart hate you are hearing as the heart beats.
So, not only can you hear a heart rhythm you can also see it in real time.
Electronic stethoscopes are also easily modified which means that not only can you choose the accessories that are most comfortable for you, but you can also swap out different accessories for different jobs.
This means that your stethoscope is actually working for you and your patients to provide the best, most appropriate, and most accurate care possible.
Isn’t that what health care is all about?
Why Doesn’t Everyone Have One Yet?
The earliest electronic stethoscopes gave themselves a bad reputation for not picking up all the sounds that an acoustic stethoscope was able to.
However, the latest electronic stethoscopes are made with acoustic technology integrated with electronic technology ensuring that they pick up all the sounds of traditional stethoscopes.
Also, you will have all access to all the wonderful features that made electronic stethoscopes popular in the first place and more.
Another reason some health care professionals hesitate to switch over to an electronic stethoscope is that they run on batteries that must be replaced occasionally.
You also must be careful in cleaning your stethoscope because an electronic stethoscope is not waterproof.
That also means that using electronic stethoscopes in very wet conditions may not be ideal.
However, there are some great ways to clean your stethoscope without getting it too wet.
There are also ways to use them without exposing them to too much moisture in wet conditions.
These little wonders are worth the extra maintenance, and are sure to serve you well.
Your stethoscope is among your most used tools as a health care professional.
Shouldn’t you have the very best for you and your patients?
Shouldn’t you have a stethoscope that actually makes your job easier?
Switching to an electronic stethoscope can save you time, reduce your already high stress levels, and drastically improve your ability to care for your patients.
Also, with the constantly developing technologies surrounding electronic stethoscopes, they will be come the new standard for all health care professionals in the future.
Getting an electronic stethoscope today will put you ahead of the learning curve later.
Take the plunge and start enjoying all the amazing benefits electronic stethoscopes have to offer.
A small investment today will pay for itself in saved time, and more accurate readings.
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