Auscultation in Flight: Comparison of Conventional and Electronic Stethoscopes



      The ability to auscultate during air medical transport is compromised by high ambient-noise levels. The aim of this study was to assess the capabilities of a traditional and an electronic stethoscope (which is expected to amplify sounds and reduce ambient noise) to assess heart and breath sounds during medical transport in a Boeing C135.


      We tested one model of a traditional stethoscope (3MTM Littmann Cardiology IIITM) and one model of an electronic stethoscope (3MTM Littmann Stethoscope Model 3000). We studied heart and lung auscultation during real medical evacuations aboard a medically configured C135. For each device, the quality of auscultation was described using a visual rating scale (ranging from 0 to 100 mm, 0 corresponding to “I hear nothing,” 100 to “I hear perfectly”). Comparisons were accomplished using a t-test for paired values.


      A total of 36 comparative evaluations were performed. For cardiac auscultation, the value of the visual rating scale was 53 ± 24 and 85 ± 11 mm, respectively, for the traditional and electronic stethoscope (paired t-test: P = .0024). For lung sounds, quality of auscultation was estimated at 27 ± 17 mm for traditional stethoscope and 68 ± 13 for electronic stethoscope (paired t-test: P = .0003). The electronic stethoscope was considered to be better than the standard model for hearing heart and lung sounds.


      Flight practitioners involved in air medical evacuation in the C135 aircraft are better able to practice auscultation with this electronic stethoscope than with a traditional one.
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