Playing the piano. Learning a language. Mastering medicine. To be the best, we practice. Many clinicians practice cardiac auscultation every day – performing routine physical exams that can help detect abnormalities early. The ability to differentiate between typical and pathological heart sounds can help prevent misdiagnoses; and for an already over-burdened healthcare system that could lead to better outcomes for patients.
How auscultation applies today
As new portable tools like the handheld ultrasound promise to revolutionize physical exams, auscultation endures as a quick and cost-effective screening method. It’s arguably more straightforward than positioning and aiming an ultrasound, then viewing and interpreting images. Plus, stethoscopes tend to come at lower price points than handheld ultrasounds. Still, the best diagnostic tools are only as valuable as the skill of the clinicians who use them.
Honing a lifelong skill Continued practice ensures auscultation skills won’t wither over time.1, Researchers suggest that cardiac examination skills may decline after years in practice2 and an auditory template of each new sound must be created by the brain to commit the sound to memory.3 In other words, the way we internalize sounds requires repetition and continued learning.
There’s an App for that
The Littmann™ Learning App, powered by eMurmur, is a great way to start or continue auscultation training. A medical student or clinician can practice learning a variety of heart pathologies and test their listening skills by differentiating between typical and pathological heart sounds.
The Littmann™ University App is an auscultation teaching tool that enables a classroom of medical students to simultaneously listen and learn under the direction of their professor in a virtual or in-person setting.
Pairing prevention with practice
Early and accurate detection of heart abnormalities can make all the difference for healthcare systems and patients. As the healthcare industry pivots to a prevention-based model, a little auscultation practice could go a long way.
References 1. Factors influencing cardiac auscultation proficiency in physician trainees, Lam et al., Singapore Med J. 2005 Jan;46(1):11-4. 2. Competency in Cardiac Examination Skills in Medical Students, Trainees, Physicians, and Faculty. Criley, et al., Arch Intern Med. 2006;166 610-616. 3. The Power of Repetition in Mastering Cardiac Auscultation, Barrett, et al., Ch. 4: Teaching Heart Auscultation to Health Professionals: 2011, ISBN 978-0-9877400-0-7