Stethoscope: How to choose the best model in 2021
Today we are going to talk about the stethoscope, an instrument widely used by professionals in the medical field to perform auscultation (listening) of vascular, respiratory, pulmonary and abdominal sounds.
This equipment is the first contact of the doctor or nurse with the patient. If the professional has well-developed auscultation skills, this is an excellent way to make a quick and non-invasive diagnosis.
If you are looking for a stethoscope you have come to the right place, in this article we will present everything you need to know about the equipment, what are the main functions and how to choose the ideal model.
First, the most important
- There are two types of stethoscopes: the conventional (analog) model and the digital equipment, although this is not yet as usual as the traditional model.
- A good stethoscope should have the following characteristics: stainless steel and slightly malleable stems, soft and anatomical eartips, non-toxic and flexible PVC tube and sensitive earpiece that reproduces sounds clearly and at an appropriate volume.
- Among the brands that produce stethoscopes, 3M’s Littmann stands out, which was founded by the North American doctor David Littmann, who improved the equipment’s acoustics. You can also find some BIC options and excellent Spirit models.
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Ranking: The 3 best stethoscope models
To help you buy a good stethoscope, in addition to tips on choosing the ideal model according to your profession, target audience and preferences, we have put together a selection of the best models.
All health professionals, whether doctors (of different specialties), nurses or nursing assistants learn what a stethoscope is in the first classes of the medical school or technical course.
Once they start practicing the profession, they will hardly spend a single day in their professional lives without using the equipment. After all, the stethoscope is an essential tool for determining the diagnosis of pathologies in various areas of the body.
What is a stethoscope?
The stethoscope is a very popular instrument in the medical field. It is used by doctors and nurses to perform the auscultation procedure (a technical term that corresponds to listening) in any region of the body.
The stethoscope is used to hear the heartbeat, vascular sounds, of a respiratory nature (placing the device on the back, in the region of the lungs), the digestive tract or any other nature.
That is, the stethoscope establishes the doctor’s first contact with his patients to quickly assess, diagnose and monitor these people without the need for complex tests (in some cases).
For this reason, millions of medical professionals use the stethoscope every day around the world. But you need to take the time to learn auscultation and develop this skill.
Did you know that when positioned on the heart, the stethoscope allows the examiner to hear clearly the heart sounds, sounds formed in some stages of the heartbeat?
The first sound is the sound of cardiac systole (contraction of the heart muscle to pump blood into the veins), the second is the sound of diastole (relaxation, the phase when blood enters the heart), the third sound is common in children and adolescents and happens at the beginning of diastole, if it is heard in adults of advanced age, it indicates pathologies. The fourth sound is a rare sound, it can appear in healthy children, but when present in an adult it also indicates diseases.
What is a stethoscope for?
The stethoscope is for the doctor or nurse to obtain and evaluate some information about the functioning of the patient’s body and can make a first diagnosis.
In addition to the assessment of heart sounds, which we detail in the table above, the equipment can be used to perform the auscultation procedure of the lungs and check breathing sounds.
The doctor can also use it to analyze the sounds produced in the abdomen and assess if there are problems in the functioning of the large and small intestines, look for obstructions or even injuries.
In addition, the professional can hear the sounds of the carotids, the arteries that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the brain. The doctor can check this through the patient’s blood flow.
What is a stethoscope made of?
The stethoscope is composed of some fundamental parts that we will see in detail below:
- The earpiece is anatomically shaped to adapt to the ear canal. Usually the ends of this piece have ribs to fit the olives more firmly and, consequently, securely.
- The olives are the silicone pieces that are placed on the stems and then fit in the ears of the health professional, so it does not need to have direct contact with the metal rods.
- They are the rods that connect the stethoscope tubing to the auscultation piece, transmitting the sound of the patient’s body to the examiner’s ears. The rods are made of hollow metallic material (aluminum or stainless steel) and work as an extension of the tubes.
- The sound-conducting tube is usually made of special rubber to prevent sounds from escaping, to increase the flexibility of the piece and to facilitate the examination.
- The auscultatory part is the metallic part that comes into contact with the patient’s body. It has a double face, the diaphragm on one side and the bell / bell / seal on the other.
- The bell (or seal ) has a cylindrical and hollow shape, so it transmits low-frequency sounds like heartbeats better. This piece has no membrane, it captures the sound by the conical shape that conducts the sound waves to the hole at the bottom of the cone.
- On the other side is the diaphragm , a piece that transmits high-frequency sounds like those emitted by the abdomen and lung. This piece consists of a thin circular membrane, made of plastic, that vibrates when in contact with the sounds of the body, creating acoustic waves.
Check out the advantages and disadvantages of this equipment so used by medicine:
- It is a quick diagnostic tool
- Available in analog and digital versions
- Spare parts can be purchased
- It is a relatively inexpensive device
- Better quality devices are more expensive
- The contact of the rubber with the oiliness of the skin tends to make the tube rigid
Analog or digital stethoscope: Which one to choose?
The digital stethoscope is an evolution of the conventional instrument, but it is still little used in hospitals and medical clinics.
It has a structure very similar to the analog stethoscope, that is, it has the ear tips, rods, conduction tube, bell and diaphragm, but next to these last two pieces there is a digital reading panel.
Check out how it works through this video published on the Surgical Passos channel:
When it comes into contact with the body, the sounds are transmitted to the equipment’s sensor, automatically converted into digital signals and shown on a panel.
The most interesting thing about this equipment is that it captures even the most sensitive noises such as small murmurs in the heartbeat, or other sounds that are not identified by the doctor, but that are now absorbed and presented by means of graphics.
Other advantages are: amplification of the sound up to 20 times, frequency control, noise reduction and volume control. To operate, this equipment uses two AAA batteries and has a battery life of up to 100 hours.
This device can be connected to the computer to reproduce, store and print the sounds collected during the exam.
The prices of stethoscopes fluctuate considerably, as there are differences between the values practiced by each brand. Just to give you an idea, it is possible to find very simple models for around R $ 15.
However, if you want a device of good quality and long durability, you can find models between R $ 90 and R $ 250 and more expensive options that can cost up to R $ 1,900.
Where to buy?
You can buy a stethoscope at websites that sell medical and hospital equipment. In some pharmacies you can also find them. If you prefer, you can buy online, on sites like Amazon.
If you are interested in a model of the Ranking that we present above, just click on the link that precedes the description of the product and you will be redirected to the purchase page.
Did you know that the working principle of the stethoscope was created by the French doctor René Laennec in 1816? When he used a laminated paper tube to channel the sound that came from a patient’s chest to his ear.
The doctor also created the name that is still used today, from the combination of the words of Greek origin “sthetos” which means chest and “skopein” which means to visualize.
Purchasing criteria: Factors to compare the different stethoscope models
Several issues influence the choice of a good stethoscope, which can make this task difficult at first. At the time of purchase, take the time to research the following characteristics:
- The stethoscope of each profession
- Quality of the auscultatory piece
- Ear tips
- Extra features
- Warranty and certification at Anvisa
We will explain item by item so that you are not in doubt about which criteria are fundamental when choosing a stethoscope.
The stethoscope of each profession
Our first tip is to choose the stethoscope according to your area of expertise and the age group you serve. This is essential to produce good diagnoses.
Nowadays, some brands already produce their own equipment for cardiologists, for example. For professionals working with children it is essential to choose a children’s model.
If your specialty is newborn babies, know that there is already equipment suitable for this age group. The most interesting thing is that this model is a reduced version of the conventional stethoscope.
Quality of the auscultatory piece
The auscultatory piece is the most important part of a stethoscope, as it captures the sounds emitted by the regions of the body that will be examined, so it is essential that it be of excellent quality.
Opt for a double-sided product, on which the bell is located on one side (which must always be adjustable) and on the other the diaphragm, which must be very sensitive.
The cool thing about having a double-sided stethoscope is that the bigger side (diaphragm) can be used on adult patients and the smaller diameter (bell), should be used on children or thin people.
It is essential that the auscultatory piece produces a sound with sufficient quality and height so that the examiner can clearly hear the sounds, even the softest and most discreet ones.
Olives are the pieces fitted to the ends of the metal rods. These pieces are placed inside the ears of the doctor or nurse, so it is essential that they are soft and comfortable.
The eartips made of silicone, besides being soft, adjust anatomically to the ear canal, allowing greater comfort and excellent acoustic seal.
Also check that the eartips are firmly attached to the stems, so there is no risk of them loosening and hurting the health professional’s ears. Ideally, they will only come out if you exert strength and pressure.
It is also interesting to buy a stethoscope that comes with extra ear tips, or at least the part is sold separately, in case you need to change them.
The stethoscope rods are made of metallic material and are hollow, they connect to the rubber tubes that conduct the sound and also to the olives.
It is important that this piece is made of quality material (such as stainless steel), is slightly flexible and comfortable for the professional who is handling them.
A determining factor when choosing a stethoscope is the weight of the device. It is essential that the instrument is light, as it is used quite often and several times a day.
Because of the frequency of use, the stethoscope is usually left on the shoulders, or around the neck to facilitate and speed up access to the equipment, so it must be very light.
A good stethoscope generally has an above average durability, and this is very important, considering that the equipment is handled several times and on a daily basis.
Equipment made of stainless steel generally has greater durability than the others.
The quality of the tubes is also important, it is worth buying a latex-free one because this material is not as resistant to skin oils and alcohol used to clean the equipment.
The most modern stethoscopes already have some interesting features such as:
- Adjustable diaphragms;
- Ambient noise reduction;
- Bluetooth connectivity;
- Rubber tubes and diaphragm sealing rings in colored and pearly versions;
- Non-cold ring system, to bring more comfort to the patient;
- Multi-frequency headset that allows you to listen to low and high frequency sounds without having to change the side of the headset;
- Olives with Nano Silicone technology, which do not absorb dirt and facilitate cleaning.
Warranty and certification at Anvisa
It is important to purchase a stethoscope with a warranty from the equipment manufacturer. Most brands provide this support and almost all provide a one-year warranty. Some brands, however, offer longer warranties, from two to three years.
It is also worth making sure that the model you are interested in purchasing is registered and certified by Anvisa, the National Health Surveillance Agency, a regulatory body linked to the Ministry of Health.
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