A stethoscope is one of the most important tools for a physician. Thus, its quality is very important. You will need a stethoscope to listen to cardiac and lung sounds and also take blood pressure reading.
Most medics make a mistake of only considering recommendation, brand and price when shopping for a stethoscope. However, this should not be the case. There are various important things to consider to find a stethoscope that will meet your expectations.
Most doctors identify with the traditional acoustic stethoscope. However, technology led to a more advanced stethoscope: the electronic stethoscope (also known as a digital stethoscope).
If you want a quick recommendation of a quality electronic stethoscope, check out the Thinklabs One electronic stethoscope which is our favorite.
What is an Electronic Stethoscope?
You might be wondering what an electronic stethoscope is and how it’s different from the manual one.
Unlike the conventional steth, an electronic stethoscope uses electricity to amplify body sounds. Technology advancements have enabled electronic amplification of sound to produce wonderful results.
With electronic ‘scopes, nurses and doctors have better control of the volume of their devices. These ‘scopes produce digital (electronic) sound impulses. For physicians with partial hearing loss or those working in noisy areas, the ability to control the volume can be a game changer. The hassle of listening for sounds longer is eliminated, allowing you to save time and get accurate diagnoses.
The health profession is already demanding as it is. A stethoscope that can lessen work exasperation is a necessity.
Overview of Digital Stethoscopes
This is a more advanced stethoscope than the traditional acoustic stethoscopes. While many brands of electronic stethoscopes in the market, you should research well to find a good quality one. Let’s look at the basic features of electronic stethoscopes:
Electronic stethoscopes are powered by external energy. The source of the energy a model requires depends on its design.
Most digital stethoscopes are powered by AC 12V power cords instead of batteries. When powered on, most of the steths will have some light indication. When they run low on power, the stethoscopes will also show some visual or audio signal.
Amplifying stethoscopes use rechargeable batteries, lithium, AAA or AA batteries. Some models have a visual indicator when the power level is low on the scope or LCD of the chestpiece.
Some medics are wary of purchasing electronic steths as they are afraid of them suddenly going off while they are in the middle of their examination. However, this rarely happens.
Digitizing stethoscopes are electronic stethoscopes capable of converting audio sounds to digital signals. They can also transmit serialized audio data that can be shared in real time or stored and then later shared.
Digitizing stethoscopes have an electronic sensor that detects sound and then converts it to electronic form. This sound is then run through a circuit that amplifies, filters in accordance with the frequency and is converted from analog to digital.
This digitized data can be sent to any computer software across a network through a video conference unit. However, for this to happen, both the electronic stethoscopes sending and receiving data must be capable of converting digital signals to analog signals, amplifying the sounds, filtering the frequency and finally transmitting the sound to a form humans can understand.
Most amplifying stethoscopes have an audio output signal you can use to transfer real-time data using some form of software. The software can have algorithms for interpretation and diagnosis of audio output from the stethoscope.
You can save and transmit the audio output electronically through email to other health professionals. With some models, you can even transmit this data through a video conference unit.
Electronic stethoscopes amplify the body sounds. Thus, they have no problem of low sound level that is common with most acoustic stethoscopes.
The stethoscopes also convert acoustic sound waves into electronic signals. The signals are then run through a circuit that enhances the sound, enabling it to be listened to at different frequencies.
The circuit also digitizes sound and decreases background noise. This allows you make the best diagnosis based on what you hear and not interfering noises.
Electronic Stethoscope vs. Acoustic Stethoscope
The sound-volume control is an awesome feature of digital stethoscopes, but is not the only thing that makes the ‘scopes in demand. Continue reading this electronic stethoscope review for more.
Electronic stethoscopes can record sounds. Therefore, a medical student, nurse, CNA or doctor can record auditory readings on their scope and have another medic listen to help with diagnosis.
Apart from being able to record auditory readings, the recording can be saved on a computer or phone and shared with other medics. Nurses working on long-term individual patient cases can save the recordings for future reference.
There are many benefits of the recording feature. For example, students can learn from recorded sound in group discussions to improve treatment methods. In experimental treatments, sound recordings can be used to study, compare, diagnose and even treat diseases.
Electric stethoscopes can also broadcasting recordings over a sound system. In a conference or education setting, the pre-recorded or live auditory sounds can be streamed in real-time to the team. The broadcast capability allows a team of doctors or nurses to diagnose a patient without making him/her uncomfortable by individually listening to his/her body sounds.
Some companies have developed integrated software applications for various stethoscopes. These applications improve the functionality of the devices, making them more beneficial to both medics and their patients.
One such software is created by Zargis and helps to detect heart murmurs from audio recordings of heartbeats.
Littmann also has a software that allows you to transfer recordings of lung and heart sounds from its electronic stethoscopes (Littmann electronic stethoscope 3200, Littmann electronic stethoscope 4100 and Littmann stethoscope electronic 3100) into visual charts for better study.
Such applications improve the functionality of the stethoscopes, enabling medics to save more lives, faster. The software can help you identify serious or life-threatening conditions early on. When the conditions are detected, you can take the appropriate measures to prevent your patient from getting worse or dying.
Electronic Stethoscope Review: The Features
This feature allows you to customize your ‘scope and listen more comfortably and keenly to make a perfect diagnosis.
LCD Display Screen
A digital stethoscope has an LCD display screen that shows the heart rate with each heartbeat. You can see the heart rhythm on the screen. You will be in a better position to make a more accurate diagnosis when you listen to and watch the heartbeat.
Unlike acoustic stethoscopes that have limited accessories, electronic steths have quite a number that you can choose from. You can use the accessories you love and require. You can also swap these accessories to personalize your steth.
With electronic stethoscopes, the neck injuries and complications that came with the traditional stethoscopes are no more. These modern steths are easy to carry, wear and use.
Electronic Stethoscope Accessories
There are different ways in which you can accessorize your electronic stethoscope, unlike is the case with an acoustic steth.
For example, some electronic steths have attachments that allow you to synchronize them to your computer or smartphone. Therefore, you can share recordings, download and even save them for long-term study. Moreover, if there is healthcare concern, it is easier to alert other medics straight away.
Some electronic steths also have volume amplifiers. Medics with mild hearing impairment will find this feature beneficial.
With some digital ‘scopes, you can swap traditional earphones with high sound quality headphones. You can use ergonomic earbuds and noise canceling earphones with the stethoscopes to improve your listening.
Finally, some models have direct wire input devices. This makes it easier to download recordings from them to your smartphone or computer. This means you don’t have to rely on Wi-Fi to upload your recordings.
Let’s check some important factors to consider when buying an electronic stethoscope as well as some of the best models you can get.
Parts of an Electronic Stethoscope
If you only consider how famous a brand is or solely rely on recommendations by workmates, you are bound to choose an electronic stethoscope that might not satisfy your needs. When it comes to parts, check the following
- Headset. Go for a headset that is angled at 15 degrees to improve comfort while wearing. Also, the headset and chest piece should be of high-quality material.
- Chest piece. A high-quality chest piece should be made of titanium or steel. These high-density materials have better sound conductivity than softer materials.
- Diaphragm. The diaphragm should be sturdy and not prone to damage or punctures.
- Eartips. The ear tips should perfectly fit in your ears such that they won’t carelessly fall off. Moreover, they should block ambient noise.
Electronic stethoscopes detect sound differently from traditional acoustic stethoscopes. Most electronic stethoscopes have a tiny microphone in their chest piece. However, such models usually have increased ambient noise interference.
Some models also have a piezoelectric crystal at the head of the metal shaft. The shaft is then put in the head of the stethoscope, with the bottom in contact with the diaphragm. With some brands, the crystal is coated with a thick diaphragm made of rubber-like material.
Finally, some electronic stethoscopes use an electromagnetic diaphragm with a conductive inner surface to detect sound. This arrangement creates a capacitive sensor and has the same response to sound waves as traditional acoustic stethoscopes. However, the sound does not cause a physical change in the air pressure but instead changes the electrical field. Th electronic steth, therefore, gives a similar sound to an acoustic steth except that the sound is amplified.
The differences between the electronic stethoscope and the traditional acoustic stethoscope make some medical professionals apprehensive of switching to them. However, those who choose electronic steths are impressed by their sound quality.
High-end electronic stethoscope brands are also capable of wireless transmission, recording and data output.
Best Electronic Stethoscope Reviews