It seems that almost everything today is getting a digital makeover and included in this ongoing revolution is the nurse’s and doctor’s constant companion – the stethoscope.
Digital watches. Self-driving cars. Smart TVs, refrigerators, and even smart toilets. Yes, technology seems to be remaking all of the tools that we use daily.
Have you ever wondered what the best stethoscope for cardiologists? Cardiologists have to listen to the faintest of sounds to diagnose heart conditions. They used digital stethoscopes for getting the most sensitive readings – but they also use high-quality analog ones.
Today, in addition to lots of custom stethoscope add-ons for performance, comfort, and fun, you can join the digital revolution with a digital stethoscope that can amplify faint sounds, block out ambient noise, make recordings and digitize content.
Intrigued about the history of stethoscopes? I bet you didn’t know that the first stethoscope was nothing more than a rolled-up piece of paper – seriously. Even after the stethoscope was redesigned in the late 1800s, it kept pretty much the same design (with minor upgrades in materials) until today.
That is until the stethoscope got a tech upgrade in the 1950s with the invention of the digital stethoscope. So if digital stethoscopes have all those amazing features, every nurse, doctor, and healthcare professional must be tossing their old traditional analog models in the trash right?
Not so fast. We’re going to talk about digital stethoscopes versus traditional models and try to answer the question – is a digital stethoscope better?
Digital Vs. Analog Stethoscopes: A Comparison
When you look at the features of a digital stethoscope, the digital models make analog ones look like a Model T next to a Ferrari. A digital stethoscope has capabilities that are pure 21st Century science that not only increase performance but include Bluetooth compatibility and data links for telemedicine.
Features of a digital stethoscope:
- Electronic sound amplification up to 24x
- Ambient noise reduction
- Ability to record readings and play them back
- Can transmit recorded files
- Can be used for telemedicine
- Can get accurate readings over clothes
- Bell and diaphragm mode
A survey found that with the amplified auscultation of digital models, users could hear more clearly through clothing, more easily hear the Korotkoff sound when taking manual blood pressure, and required less maneuvering over a patient when taking a reading.
It was also reported that faint heart sounds such as murmurs were easier to identify.
Features of analog models:
- Tunable diaphragms
- Bell attachments
- Dual tubing, binaural sound
That’s about it for the most widely-used analog models.
So that seals the deal, right? Everyone should soon be switching over to digital stethoscopes because the technology is superior. Well, that depends.
The Pros And Cons Of Digital Versus Analog Stethoscopes
Really what it comes down to when deciding on a digital versus analog stethoscope is what you’re using it for, what you need it to do, and if you have hearing issues. In some clinical settings such as cardiology, it’s perfect when you have to be able to discern something as faint as a mid-systolic click. Or to quickly and accurately get a reading in a noisy environment like a busy ER. Or if you need to record the data and transmit it.
But for everyday use, for taking blood pressure, listening to the lungs, or even for specialties like cardiology, analog stethoscopes still get the job done. So let’s look at those pros and cons.
Digital Stethoscope :
- Amplified sound
- Wider frequency range to detect more issues
- Good for people with hearing problems
- Can record and transmit readings
- Ambient noise reduction
- Faster readings
- A visual display (some models)
- Contact sound artifacts
- Sound cutoffs
- Needs batteries
- More expensive
- May get interference from other electronic devices
- More easily damaged
- Easy to use
- Good general performance for most healthcare settings
- Sturdier, less likely to break
- Less expensive
- Doesn’t block ambient noise
- May not be suitable for those with hearing problems
- Not as sensitive
- Doesn’t record data
The Final Verdict: Is A Digital Stethoscope Better?
So what’s the final verdict, is a digital stethoscope better than an analog model?
Well, if you consider features and capabilities, it’s clear that a digital stethoscope can just do things that an analog model can’t. They represent a clear advancement in auscultation technology. Does that make it better?
If by better you mean the range of what it can do – yes. But bells and whistles don’t make something necessarily better. Better can mean simplicity, ease of use, and reliability. And if you’re using those criteria, then an analog model wins. It all comes down to what you need from your stethoscope. If you’re working in a noisy environment, need fast accurate readings, have hearing issues, or need to record and transmit the data then a digital stethoscope is better.
If you’re working in a general healthcare environment then a traditional analog stethoscope can still provide excellent sensitivity and performance that meets and can even exceed your needs. Plus you won’t have to spend a ton of cash, lug that heavy piece of equipment around all day or keep track of your batteries.
As technology progresses, all stethoscopes may likely become digital, and we’ll view analog stethoscopes the way we view the first wooden tube-style stethoscopes of the 1800s. But until we cross that event horizon, both digital and analog stethoscopes have their place in today’s healthcare settings.