As technology advances – putting many valuable tools right in our smartphones and transforming ultrasound machines into portable, handheld devices – some are beginning to question what’s in store for the stethoscope. NPR Health’s “Shots” blog asked recently if the stethoscope was a “timeless tool or outdated relic.”
Medical students still use stethoscopes to learn, says “Shots,” but “clinicians now get a lot more information from newer technology.” So is the attachment to the stethoscope clinical or emotional?
To answer the question, NPR consulted Mount Sanai’s Dr. Bret Nelson, and “Shots” reports, “He admits the stethoscope is an icon but doesn’t buy the argument that if you lose the stethoscope, you lose the tradition of the ‘healing touch.’” Nelson, an ER doc, says, “Pulling an ultrasound machine out of my pocket, or wheeling the cart over next to the patient [and] talking through with
them exactly what I’m looking for and how I’m looking for it — the fact that they can see the same image on the screen that I’m seeing strengthens that bond more than anything in the last 50 years.”
On the other side of the argument is Dr. George Davis, an obstetrician. According to “Shots,” he worries that “a whole generation of doctors is learning to rely too much on technology. He wants to hold on to first-line tools that are safe, effective and cheaper.”
How do you feel about your stethoscope and its role in the physical exam? What do you see ahead for this diagnostic tool that has been part of medicine, as “Shots” reports, since 1816? Is it as useful in the digital age as it once was?