More than 200 years ago, the first stethoscope was invented. It was nothing more than a rolled paper tube but French physician Rene Laennec managed to hear heart and lung sounds which proved vital to his assessment of his patient’s condition.
Today, even with the most advanced and sophisticated equipment to assess, evaluate and diagnose a patient, stethoscopes remain relevant to every medical professional all over the globe.
Newer models boast of reliable performance and durability. Using a stethoscope is a valuable skill that comes in handy whether you are in the emergency room tending to patients with life-threatening conditions or in the out-patient department evaluating the effectiveness of treatment.
There’s more to auscultation than putting the stethoscope on a patient’s chest and concluding everything’s normal. You should know what sounds to look out for, what you need to hear, and what it all means.
• Make sure you auscultate in a quiet place. If you’re in a ward full of other patients, cover the space with a curtain if you can. Otherwise, it can be distracting even to trained ears. Advanced stethoscopes now have noise-dampening features to drown out the background noise. This is mostly used by EMTs.
• Position the patient in a way that gives you maximum access to where you need to auscultate. For example, having them sit upright is best when you’re checking for lung sounds. When it’s the abdomen, you can ask them to lie down.
• The chest piece of a stethoscope has two sides. One is the bell (for low-pitched sounds) and the other is the diaphragm (for high-pitched sounds). There should be nothing between the patient’s chest and the chest piece because if you auscultate while they have clothes on, you’ll most likely hear nothing but some rustling or frictional noise.
• You should use your index and middle finger to hold the chest piece and apply gentle pressure. The patient should stay relaxed while breathing normally. If you’re listening to the heart, use the diaphragm and place it directly beneath the breast, between the 4th and 6th rib. For the lungs, you need to check both the front and back so you can compare the sounds.
Those are the basics of how to use the stethoscope. Accurate interpretation of each heart and lung sound needs a trained ear and years of professional experience.
A stethoscope can last for years if you take good care of it. No matter how durable it is if you don’t observe proper care, it won’t be long before its acoustic quality is affected and in turn, accuracy is compromised. Caring for your medical equipment is not optional; it’s necessary.
• Clean it on a regular basis. This is pretty basic, but you’d be surprised how many forget to do it often. Stethoscopes get in contact with several people at a time and unless it’s been sanitized properly, the transfer of bacteria may be unavoidable.
• To prevent damage to medical equipment such as a stethoscope, proper storage is important. Secure your stethoscope in a case to protect it from dust and scratches.
• Keep it away from anything extreme whether it’s heat or cold. Don’t store the stethoscope in an area where there is direct sunlight especially in your car during summer. The same applies during winter.
• Don’t skip the ear tips. Carefully unscrew them to remove any debris. You can also use soap and water or alcohol because it’s not unusual for this part to be dirty. Make sure they’re dry before putting them back and securing the tips.
In terms of diagnostic value, a stethoscope is a common tool used by medical professionals to monitor a patient’s condition. Learning how to listen and note any unusual sounds in the chest or abdomen is part of every physician’s training.
Taking care of your stethoscope is neither difficult nor time-consuming. Sanitizing won’t even take more than five minutes. In addition to increasing its longevity, you are also ensuring personal and patient safety by preventing the spread of disease and cross-contamination.