ST. PAUL, Minnesota — 3M on Wednesday unveiled the first stethoscope with Bluetooth, a wireless technology the company thinks will add more functionality and entice more physicians to try electronic versions of the iconic device.
3M has touted electronic stethoscopes as clinically better to help catch heart murmurs and other afflictions by amplifying sound. But earlier attempts to take that sound off the device and analyze it on a computer have been clunky. 3M, for example, is phasing out its 4100 series that used infrared technology to transmit a recorded heartbeat.
Its latest device, the Littmann 3200, records and can store heart, lung and other body sounds as well as employ ambient noise reduction features. But it also has Bluetooth capabilities that can send the data to a computer, and comes with software equipped with a series of algorithms to analyze the sounds.
One version of the software, made by Zargis Medical, will take four heart measurements from sites on the body and suggest whether a patient has various heart murmurs or should be sent for an echocardiogram. That process takes about one minute, according to 3M.
The sounds can be also sent, as an audio file, to other physicians for a second opinion.
Ned Hancock, a global marketing manager for the Littmann line, said the device will help physicians — particularly primary care doctors — make better decisions about the sounds they gather from a patient and cut the number of unnecessary referrals for further exams.
It remains to be seen how compelling a case that will be. If you can record and store an audio file on a computer it can also be subpoenaed in a civil case (Hancock stressed the product is one of several tools physicians should use to make their decision). Another factor could be price. The Littmann 3200, at $500 list price, can be twice as much as other electronic stethoscopes.
It is also a little surprising, in the world of BlackBerry and iPhone-addicted doctors, that the company didn’t offer software for portable electronic devices. Imagine the seamlessness of an electronic stethoscope that beams the data to a physician’s hip-holstered BlackBerry, processes the data and produces results as soon as the doctor can reach for it. The software is currently only compatible with Windows XP and Vista operating systems.
Hancock said that kind of functionality is an inevitability. “This is just the beginning,” he said.