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The History Of The Stethoscope

April 10, 2012

The stethoscope has been an integral part of the healthcare workers' daily tools for centuries. Created by a French physician, this tool was intended to make it easier for physicians to listen to the heart sounds of his or her patients. Stethoscopes have changed shape and size many times over the years, but they have never lost their popularity in the medical community.

The first model was created in 1816 by a French physician by the name of Rene Theophile-Hyacinthe Laennec. Prior to this invention, heart sounds were detected by a physician placing his ear directly on his patients' chests. This was the only method available to determine the cardiac health in an individual.

Laennec was approached by a group of urchins to listen to the sound created by scratching a pin on one end of a wooden beam. The sound was transmitted through the entire length of the beam and was not only audible at the opposite end, the sound was enhanced. This was the foundation for Laennec's medical invention.

Laennec created the first makeshift model by rolling a stack of papers into a cylinder. This was done because Laennec was examining an obese female patient and knew that her heart sounds would not be audible through her chest using the traditional ear-to-chest method. This first model was considered a monaural type because only one ear was used to listen to the heart sounds of a patient.

Soon after this discovery, stethoscopes were manufactured for sale. The earliest manufactured models were made of wood and resembled a tube with flared ends. Many different designs followed in the next few decades, including different lengths, widths and materials. Eventually the binaural model was introduced. This type had two ear pieces for a more accurate sound and diagnosis.

By 1850, a man by the name of George Camman began using a material that was more pliable and comfortable for the healthcare worker. This material was known as rubber and is still used in the manufacture of current models. This early binaural model was made with rubber, steel and cotton and much resembled the models used today.

The current anatomy contains two earpieces, a length of rubber tubing and the bell and diaphragm. Many current models come with interchangeable earpieces to accommodate the ears of many different people. The tubing comes in various lengths as well and these varying lengths provide different levels of enhancement for the listener. The bell and diaphragm are at the opposite end from the earpieces. These pieces are placed directly on the patient. The bell is smaller than the diaphragm and is curved. The diaphragm is large and is normally covered with some sort of plastic. Each end provides different audibles, which are invaluable to different specialists.

Throughout the centuries, stethoscopes have been used to listen to other bodily sounds. There are many different sizes of bell and diaphragm, tubing and ear pieces to accommodate every professional, regardless of his or her chosen profession. Although technology has brought about better ways of determining the health of a patient's heart, this tool remains as one of the most integral tools in a healthcare workers' arsenal.

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