An electronic stethoscope is a stethoscope that is capable or recording, storing and transmitting digital outputs of patient readings. In its most basic form, a stethoscope is little more than a metallic receiver piece that transmits sounds through hollow tubes connected to earpieces. Electronic models often look the same, but rather than just making internal sounds audible to their wearers, they actually record and store those sounds for later use.
Part of the usefulness of a stethoscope is its portability. For this reason, an electronic stethoscope is almost always wireless. Recording devices are most commonly stored in the receiver or in a capsule between the tubes. An electronic stethoscope, like the majority of portable electronic medical equipment, usually is powered by a battery for ease of transportation. The batteries can be either replaced or, on some models, recharged with relative ease.
Most electronic stethoscopes are designed to interact with certain software platforms. They usually are able to wirelessly upload collected data directly to a computer if the proper software is used. A wireless Internet connection can sometimes be used, although this usually is less secure and not always as reliable as other transmission methods.
Depending on the doctor's needs, the data usually can also be stored in a patient's electronic file on a practice's website. Some stethoscopes will even transmit data to mobile phone applications. These options allow medical professionals to use recorded data in a variety of ways and compare it against previously stored data, averages and diagnostic samples. This helps aid in accurate diagnoses and enables doctors to more readily treat underlying conditions.
Storage is only a part of most electronic stethoscope capabilities, however. In most cases, doctors and nurses can isolate and replay certain captured sounds. They usually can also view wavelengths and visual representations of heart beats and breathing patterns. This offers a far more dynamic means of evaluating cardiothoracic health.
An electronic stethoscope also is one of several pieces of electronic medical equipment used in telemedicine to provide remote access to health care. Some models are optimized for real-time transmissions to computers that are located great distances away in addition to local data recording. A nurse or other medical aide in a rural clinic, for instance, can listen to a patient’s heart using an electronic stethoscope and transmit the sounds in real time to a doctor in a far-off city. The doctor can comment and ask questions. These stethoscopes thus not only relay important data to the doctor but also allow the doctor to be virtually present in a range of places where access to medical services is either sporadic or nonexistent.