The pairing of smartphones and a new portable device, called HeartBuds, may someday replace that iconic medical symbol we commonly see draped around the necks of healthcare providers. The device plugs into a smartphone and operates with an app. Sounds can be played by the smartphone speakers and visualized on the screen. The sounds can also be stored and shared. The lack of earpieces is key to HeartBuds minimizing the risk of infection to patients. Traditional stethoscopes have been associated with up to a 30-40% risk of infection transmission to patients, primarily due to bacteria that collect on the earpieces.
A comparison of the effectiveness of HeartBuds to three other stethoscope models (two FDA-approved and a commonly used disposable unit) in 50 patients, were presented recently at The American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in Orlando, Florida. The HeartBuds device performed just as well as the more expensive and commonly used stethoscopes. However, the disposable unit performed poorly. Beyond the clinic, applications of this new device include: teaching medical students and residents, home use by patients with COPD and heart failure, and expectant mothers.