Thursday, September 20, 2007

GPs may take heart from MP3

The stethoscope, which evolved from a simple paper tube, has served cardiologists and GPs well for nearly 200 years, but Canadian researchers claim it is no match for today's MP3 players.

Neil Skjodt, of the University of Alberta, Canada, said even the most up-to-date stethoscopes provided inferior quality, clarity and purity of sound compared with off-the-shelf music players.

He said the new technology had several other advantages, such as storing recordings for future reference and analysis of them with more sophisticated software.

Chris Del Mar, of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine at Bond University on the Gold Coast, said stethoscopes were extremely efficient but the new technology might help in complicated cases, such as murmurs.

He said he doubted that MP3 players would replace stethoscopes but they might take away a lot of the "grunt work".

"Doctors are innovators, they get into all sorts of technology quite quickly," he said. "This will become part of what doctors use to provide best care."

Nick Zwar, professor of general practice at the University of NSW, said expense would also be a factor in how quickly such technology might catch on with local doctors. With the price of a reasonable stethoscope at $150 and better-quality MP3 players selling for between $200 and $300, he said the players would have to be clearly better.

Dr Zwar said most GPs would usually wait for feedback from established institutions such as the National Heart Foundation and the Cardiac Society before buying into new innovations.

"Stethoscopes are commonly used tools of the trade," he said.

"This sounds like one of these gee-whiz things. Whether it will catch on remains to be seen."

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