Let’s not deceive ourselves.
For many years now, electronic stethoscopes could have become mainstream at hospitals. For many years now, the technology needed to create self-amplified stethoscopes, with heightened sensitivity and reliability and with enough autonomy to go on for days without needing a recharge has been available to us. This is the kind of stethoscope that enables hearing a midsystolic click over the client’s clothes with perfect clarity.
Well then, why are they not being used more widely?
- To start with, the price was (and still is) a barrier at first sight.
- Let’s add to that the resistance to change we can find in the doctors. Why replace a diagnosis tool that already works and has proved to be reliable for decades for another one that I know nothing about, and is more expensive?
- Finally, we need to note that, while an electronic stethoscope offers many advantages, it also adds complexity to auscultation. We need to keep an eye on the batteries. It doesn’t work in the same “plug-and-play” fashion than acoustic stethoscopes. We need to plug it. Set the amplification level we desire. Connect the smartphone’s Bluetooth in case we want to use that feature. And so on.
However, there are multiple benefits we can obtain from electronic stethoscopes. Actually, more and more doctors are choosing to take the plunge to digital stethoscopes. If this is your case, if you are assessing the possibility of purchasing one of them. What are your alternatives?
Let’s have a look at the most popular models in the market.
1. Littmann Electronic 3200 & 3100
Chance didn’t make Littmann the leading brand in the electronic stethoscopes market. It is the company with the longest trajectory and the most valued by medicine professionals. At the moment, Littmann is marketing two different stethoscope models: 3200 and 3100.
If we look at their acoustic performance, both models are identical, and achieve the same results. The only difference between them is that the superior model (Littmann 3200) allows the recording of 30s auscultations and its wireless transmission via Bluetooth. This way, we can share auscultations with other colleagues to get a second opinion, store them in the client’s history file or use them with educational purposes. Have in mind that the Bluetooth link is not compatible with Apple devices –you’ll need a Windows PC to use with the included Bluetooth adaptor.
In addition, both stethoscopes provide 24x amplification technology as well as an environmental noise reduction system that manages to remove 85% of interferences. Moreover, they automatically switch on upon detecting pressure on the diaphragm and they are user-friendly thanks to their simple built-in LCD panel. They issue multiple reminders for low battery, and run on a single AA battery, so it won’t be hard to replace if it runs out in an untimely manner.
What follows is Littmann 3200’s up-to-date information:
- Overall acoustic performance (1-10 scale) 10+
- Main application areas; cardiology/high performance/ bluetooth
- Chestpiece design and technology; durable metal
- Headset material; wide diameter aerospace alloy
2. Thinklabs ONE
Electronic stethoscope Thinklabs ONE is the most disruptive of the whole list. It’s the first that challenges the classic image of acoustic stethoscopes: it’s a small round device, without tubes, without binaural and without the olives.
It simply comes with some earphones and a standard 3.5 mm. jack.
Its electronic diaphragm is sensitive to pressure, which will allow us to catch low-frequency sounds by intensifying the pressure applied to the client. Besides, we will be able to adjust such sensitivity through its screen, modifying the filter we apply to the obtained auscultations. As we can see in the image, its control panel is very simple and minimalist.
One of the main critics the Thinklabs ONE has received is the absence of an environmental noise reduction system. When we amplify auscultations, we can’t avoid amplifying the volume of environmental noise at the same time. Therefore, if our regular practice takes place in a noisy environment, Thinklabs ONE could create issues.
In terms of connectivity, Thinklabs ONE enables the uploading of auscultations to iOS, Android, Mac or PC devices. It doesn’t provide built-in wireless connectivity, but thanks to its Thinklink adapter (included), we can connect it to our devices.
What’s the current price of Thinklabs ONE?
3. Eko Core
Electronic stethoscope Eko Core is different to everything we have seen so far. Very different!
To begin with, Eko Core is not a stethoscope in itself. It’s an addition, an accessory to the traditional acoustic stethoscope that turns it into a digital one. The user will have to remove the stethoscope’s chestpiece and replace it with Eko Core. Then, the user will connect the adapter tube (included) to the other extreme of Eko Core, which will in turn connect the stethoscope’s acoustic chestpiece.
As we can see, we are sort of bypassing the stethoscope. Eko Core offers the advantage of allowing you to use the stethoscope in analogic or electronic modes at the touch of a single button.
The electronic mode features 40x amplification, an environmental noise reduction system, rechargeable battery with 9 hours of stand-alone time and Bluetooth connectivity. Also, it supports all smartphones and includes a web control panel that will allow us to share and view auscultations, and even to live-stream them (for telemedicine or educational uses).
At the moment, Eko Core doesn’t seem to be available in Amazon (check this link, it might get restocked).
Anyway, you can purchase it in the brand’s official website ($199 for the model that doesn’t include stethoscope; $299 for the model that comes assembled into a stethoscope).
The three models of electronic stethoscopes we have looked at so far are the most popular and the best-sellers. There are a couple more models, but they are stethoscopes that have become obsolete (such as Littmann 3000 Electronic or Welch Allyn Elite™ Electronic).
And how about you? Do you know of any other electronic stethoscopes that are worth reviewing?