There is no medical device more iconic of medical practice than the stethoscope we carry in our lab coat or drape around our neck. I’ve been an avid user of the Littmann (St. Paul, Minnesota) model 3200 digital stethoscope for many years. As an early adopter of this technology, it was obvious that this $400 stethoscope had many advantages over traditional stethoscopes. Firstly, it features ambient noise reduction, facilitating auscultation in noisy environments. Additionally, it can be used to improve auscultation via its ability to “amplify” sound volume up to 24 times without sacrificing sound quality. As my hearing is not as good as it was 30 years ago, I find this feature particularly useful.
I was disappointed to learn that 3M Littmann plans to retire the model 3200 stethoscope over the next year or so, as it never accounted for more than 5% of the company’s stethoscope sales. Fortunately, 3M Littmann has partnered with EkoHealth (Oakland, California) to produce the $350 Littman-CORE digital stethoscope. This device combines Littmann’s top of the line Cariology IV chest piece with EkoHealth’s CORE digital stethoscope system – which allows users to listen via a traditional “analog” mode or via a “digital” mode with ambient noise reduction, and up to 40x amplification. The stethoscope has an integrated rechargeable battery good for up to 8 hours of continuous use, and a slider mechanism that switches between analog and digital modes. One can adjust the amplification with a press of a button. Additionally, one can transmit and record heart sounds to the EkoHealth application that runs on smart phones and tablets. This enables you to share these with students and specialists. I’ve been using the Littmann-CORE digital stethoscope for several weeks and have been quite pleased with the experience.