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Digital stethoscopes: A Beginning

What if the traditional stethoscope could be improved? If the sounds of a healthy body's internal processes could be removed, and only the crud remained, cleared up for the benefit of the doctor?

Sound like a pipe dream? Maybe it was, once. These days, it's the continuing work of one man, to bring into being.

Strathclyde bioengineer Richard Boyle is developing a dual-probe digital stethoscope that turns down the volume of the normal sounds of the heart, and only the normal sounds, allowing doctors to listen for abnormal murmurs that occur when the heart valves aren't opening and closing properly.

It's a first step towards a total auscultation editing process in real-time, that offers the potential to recognise, and process in real-time, all internal body sounds.

Richard Boyle had the following to say, about his plans for his invention:

"With a conventional stethoscope, it can be very difficult to hear the difference between an innocent murmur and a suspicious one. As a result, some cardiologists report that a very high proportion of patients referred to them are not suffering from murmurs that require treatment.

"The new technology could help GPs, hospital doctors and paediatricians isolate any abnormal sounds and help them hear more accurately whether a murmur is suspicious. The digital stethoscope can also be attached to a portable hard drive so that readings can be downloaded and sent directly to a cardiologist if required.

"The technology is designed to save time for both patients and doctors and ensure that if a patient does have a suspicious murmur, they receive further investigations and treatment as quickly as possible.

"It could also prove to be a useful training tool for medical students, who need to learn what to listen for. The technology can be used in order to provide additional diagnostic information, allowing an improved diagnosis of any heart conditions to be given, since murmurs can be very quiet and difficult to hear."

The device is being developed in conjunction with the Strathclyde Institute of Medical Devices based at the Department of Bioengineering, and the Centre for Excellence in Signal and Image Processing in the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering.

It will be used on patients in several Glasgow hospitals, before the end of 2009.


Digital stethoscope to help doctors diagnose heart defects

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