Buying a stethoscope used to be a fairly simple process. You found one that met your clinical needs whilst aiming for the best value and lowest weight. We’ve already covered the history of the stethoscope here and the best buys here but in 2019 stethoscopes are set to evolve even further.
With the advancement of electronics and AI, brought on by the industry obsession with Moore’s law, technology is getting better and smaller every day. Medical equipment is of course at the forefront of this development, trialling novel solutions to current medical and surgical problems. As with all new technology, the first designs are very expensive, just as the first electronic stethoscopes were. Now they sit at an average price of ~$200 per unit, with the price dropping around $8 a year.
In 2017 the market was worth over $120 million dollars with a predicted rise up to $170 million by 2023. Electronic stethoscopes are a relatively new addition to the stethoscopes world but already they are being upgraded in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. AI is now being integrated to assist clinicians and students in detecting irregular rhythms and valvular pathology such as murmurs. A company called StethoMe have developed an AI stethoscope currently being trialled in 10 different countries, including Britain, Sweden, Italy and Germany, Poland’s PAP news agency has reported. The company is declaring this a world first with the stethoscope being “equipped with artificial intelligence to enable an initial examination before the doctor decides on the final diagnosis”.
Looking to the Future of Stethoscopes
As the world becomes more familiar with tech and designers concentrate heavily on user friendly design, more use cases are opening up each year. At the tech conference CES 2019, AireSone have developed a wearable electronic stethoscope for children. Dubbed the AireSone Junior, this device is designed to help parents monitor the sleep, breathing and heart rate of their child. Not only that, it monitors coughs and wheezes to alert parents to potential oncoming asthma attacks. Working with doctors in Singapore and Australia, the team have developed AI which can detect micro-wheezing, inaudible to the human ear to protect those most vulnerable from asthmatic illness. It will retail for $199 (about £155 and AU$280), and ships in June this year.
New technology comes at the right time for the venerable stethoscope, as recent infection control studies published by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, shows that they carry an alarming amount of bacteria, including Staph. Aureus which can lead to serious infections. It has already been noted that bacteria are carried on phones, ties and white coats. Indeed, white coats are a thing of the past in the UK for doctors, replaced by a ‘bare below the elbows’ policy instead. Technology and AI may very well save the stethoscope if wireless versions can be developed at a low enough price point, increasing the quality of clinical sounds and signs users rely on whilst also cutting down on the spread of infection, saving many patients in the long run.
Excellence in Application