The handheld ultrasound could soon spell the end for the 200-year-old stethoscope.
"Now that you can use an ultrasound and look into the chest, why do you need a stethoscope?" said Dr. Jagat Narula of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Narula wrote an editorial in the journal Global Heart suggesting that handheld ultrasound devices offer faster, more accurate diagnoses than traditional physical exams and should become standard care. Ultrasound uses sound waves to reflect images from inside the body. Experts say it's safe, radiation-free and painless.
Dr. Bret Nelson says his emergency department uses them to diagnose almost everything.
"By looking directly at the lungs I can see if fluid is overloading those lungs," Nelson said.
But some cardiologists argue that ultrasound may not be the best device for all doctors because extensive training is necessary to read the images accurately.
"It's complex and difficult to interpret in the hands of the average physician and I think it will be generations before we see the disappearance of the stethoscope," said Dr. Sahil Parikh of University Hospitals Case Medical Center.
Cost is another factor. A handheld ultrasound costs thousands of dollars. And while the price is expected to drop significantly in the coming years, the stethoscope runs under $25.
Some doctors also point out the stethoscope is still better than the ultrasound in one area-- detecting the wheezing associated with asthma.
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