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Sound teaching: updating the stethoscope

The stethoscope was invented by Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laennec in 1816 and has become the letimotif of the doctor. It still provides the clinician with a concerto of medical information, about heart and lung conditions. To help medical students to tune their ears, Dr. Michael Barrett of Temple University, Philidelphia has used digital sound recordings.

This is what the London Times said about the stethoscope in 1834:

“That it will ever come into general use, notwithstanding its value, is extremely doubtful; because its beneficial application requires much time and gives a good bit of trouble both to the patient and the practitioner; because its hue and character are foreign and opposed to all our habits and associations.”

It is easy to see a parallel between this embarrassingly incorrect assessment and the criticism often aimed at the NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT). Here is a quote from the Sunday Times about Choose and Book:

“The author of the memo concludes: “Clinicians will not take kindly to accepting changes that are detrimental to existing working processes unless there are significant or proven benefits.”

Plus ça change!

Time magazine in Updating the Stethoscope with an iPod reports that Dr. Mike Barrett produced a CD of sounds of six abnormal heart conditions and gave it to students who prompty ripped and loaded it onto their iPods. After about two hours the students were able to identify up to 80 percent of the sounds in a test.


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