An iPhone app isn't "disappearing" stethoscopes

By Brian Dolan
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Topol: wireless health has killed the scethoscopeAn article published in the UK's Guardian last week included an unfortunate error -- just because it's intended for physicians, doesn't mean everyone who downloads a particular iPhone medical app is one:

"The stethoscope – medical icon, lifesaver and doctor’s best friend – is disappearing from hospitals across the world as physicians increasingly use their smartphones to monitor patients’ heartbeats," The Guardian wrote. "More than 3 million doctors have downloaded a 59p application – invented by Peter Bentley, a researcher from University College London – which turns an Apple iPhone into a stethoscope."

The Guardian has since issued this correction: "We reported below that more than 3 million doctors had downloaded an application, invented by a University College London researcher, that allows an Apple iPhone to be used as a stethoscope. What we should have said was that according to the inventor, Peter Bentley, 3 million people in general downloaded this app. (Three million doctors would have been a substantial proportion of the world's stock of same.)"

iMedicalApps, which first reported on the Guardian's correction this morning, sums up the iStethoscope app's functionality succinctly: "You take the bottom part of your iPhone, where the microphone is, and place it on the key auscultation points on your chest – Aortic, Pulmonic, Tricupsid, and Mitral. The app then enhances the sound that the microphone hears on your iPhone, and then you can supposedly use the sounds to detect heart pathologies. Basically – it’s a glorified microphone – not something you would want to detect life threatening cardiac pathologies with. On top of this, you have to place the microphone in exactly the correct place, and then assume your patient is thin and doesn’t have extra adipose tissue to distort the noise – not practical by any means."

The Guardian article did do a worthwhile job of sketching out the general regulatory mood for wireless health devices in Europe though (our summary of that here).

I don't think it's a coincidence that the a dust up over mHealth hype started up again last week shortly after the Guardian posted the iStethoscope article. The idea that an iPhone app using the phone's mic might be good enough to cause the "disappearance" of stethoscopes in hospitals across the world is ludicrous.

Another wireless health device will be responsbile for that, right? GE Healthcare's handheld ultrasound device Vscan was already dubbed wireless health's "stethoscope killer" at TEDMED last year -- here's MobiHealthNews' report from that event.

For more on the Guardian goof, check out iMedicalApps' thoughtful rebuke.