The days of seeing a doctor with a stethoscope hanging around their neck may soon be a thing of the past, as hand-held ultrasound devices are being predicted to replace the 200-year-old medical tool, in near future, doctors say.

Pocket-sized ultrasound machines look similar to smartphones and are able to diagnose heart, lung and other problems more accurately than traditional stethoscopes, said doctors writing in an editorial (Global Heart) published Jan. 23.

The ability to get a better look inside the body could prevent misdiagnoses, and help doctors detect abnormalities that need to be followed up with other tests.  “With ultrasound devices, one can not only look at the heart, but all of the organs in the body,” said Dr. Jagat Narula, professor of cardiology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and one of the authors of the editorial.  “As a matter of fact, stethoscope is a misnomer,” René Laennec, the French physician who invented the stethoscope in 1816, used the stethoscope as an indirect way to “look” into the chest.  “Now that we have ultrasound, we have a real ‘stethoscope’ in our hand,” Narula said.

Ultrasound Handhelds

The ultrasound device, invented in the 1950s, used to be as large as a refrigerator, but ultrasound machines rapidly grew smaller and more powerful as time progressed.  “Many authors have argued that ultrasound has become the stethoscope of the 21st century,” Narula said. Because of the hefty price tag of the smaller, portable ultrasound devices, most doctors do not have one.  The cost of one of these medical marvels is typically $8,000 to $10,000.

Another reason the devices are not more commonly used is that the technology used in these devices are relatively new. Doctors who completed their training long before handheld ultrasounds, such as the ones created by mobisante, were available are unlikely to use the devices, but this may change with future generations of doctors.

[Image via gehealthcare]