Stethoscopes merging with modern technology

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It’s a tool physicians learn to use early on in med school. Stethoscopes are standard issue and have been around for more than 200 years. Draped around the neck it’s an iconic symbol of the profession.

But what happens when you merge the simple tool with modern technology?

Local heart researchers hope it will transform care from the general practitioner’s office to the ER.

Dr James Thomas has been a cardiologist for more than 32 years. His ears are highly sensitive and trained to hear

“It really has not changed very much in that time,” he said of the stethoscope. “You go back to the 19th century they looked very much like (what we have now).

The new tool doesn’t look like a stethoscope, but it acts like one. And with the bonus feature of artificial intelligence, it may help doctors of all types better identify irregular rhythms.

“The little tricorder is pretty cool and it also gives you the electrocardiogram,” Thomas said.

An EKG or electrocardiogram records heart rhythm using multiple leads and wires. The handheld device has a built-in microphone that serves as a stethoscope and two sensors to detect rhythm.

Linked to an app on a smartphone, a tool fueled by artificial intelligence analyzes the heart sounds and rhythm using a library of thousands of patterns.

“In urgent care and you say your pulse is a little irregular you slap that on and in 15 seconds it tells you if they are in atrial fibrillation or not,” Thomas said.

Doctors at Northwestern Medicine are testing the technology on their heart patients.

Thomas said the technology may be best suited for the emergency room and general practitioner’s office.

“They are taking care of the entire body,” he said. “They are very good in everything but maybe not quite as expert in listening to the heart as a cardiologist would be.  And this will really augment their ability to detect murmurs.”

Northwestern Medicine is still enrolling patients in the EKO cardiac monitoring platform trial so they can compare results to a traditional echocardiogram. For information, call (312) 926-4000.

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