A weird idea, it may sound like, but most of life’s best inventions did sound strange at first, before their outcome shushed up critics.
Cardiologist Michael Barrett of Temple University School of Medicine and Hospital presented a study detailing his experiments with ‘recorded heartbeats’ at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology.
According to Barrett, who teaches cardiology his technique- recording abnormal heartbeats on an iPod or CD and having it being listened to 400 times, by physicians, can more than double their rate of detecting an abnormal heartbeat.
Why this is important is not only because using the stethoscope is so vital to a doctor in diagnosing his patient, it also helps do away with unnecessary stress tests or echocardiograms, Barrett stresses.
After demonstrating last year that medical students greatly improved their stethoscope skills by listening repeatedly to heart sounds on their iPods, Barrett set out to test the technique on practicing physicians.
During a single 90-minute session, 149 general internists listened 400 times to five common heart murmurs including aortic stenosis, aortic regurgitation, mitral stenosis, mitral regurgitation and innocent systolic murmur.
Previous studies have found the average rate of correct heart sound identification in physicians is 40 percent.
After the session, the average improved doubly- to 80 percent.
Barrett offers the clue as to why this technique worked. Listening to the heart, known as cardiac auscultation, is a technical skill and therefore best learned through intensive drilling and repetition and not by traditional methods, usually a classroom lecture or demonstration in medical school and then on the job.
Since the release of Barrett's first study with medical students, the demand for recordings of heart sounds has been intense. Thanks to a partnership with the American College of Cardiology, Barrett's heart sounds can now be accessed online and are available on CD.
Barrett now foresees a day in the near future when doctors are listening to heart sounds during their work commute, or even during professional meetings.