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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Google doodle on man who invented stethoscope

Another morning ~ another doodle ! – as usual interesting this time too… it is in celebration of a Physician on what would have been his 235th birthday. Not many of us would have heard the name of René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec  born on February 17, 1781, in Quimper, France.

He was described as a gifted student who studied medicine under the direction of his uncle, also a physician, in Nantes before serving as a medical cadet in the French Revolution. Writing in De l'Auscultation Médiate in 1819, he recounted: "I happened to recollect a simple and well-known fact in acoustics, ... the great distinctness with which we hear the scratch of a pin at one end of a piece of wood on applying our ear to the other.

If you are wondering who - René Laennec  invented the stethoscope in 1816. While consulting a female patient, Laennec needed to listen to the woman’s chest. Before the stethoscope, doctors would place their ear directly onto the patient’s chest, a practice called auscultation. As the patient was somewhat overweight, Laennec thought it both improper to place his head on her chest and listen directly. He rolled up a sheet of paper into a tube and placed one end on the patient’s chest. The tube magnified sound, and Laennec found he could hear her lung sounds easily by putting his ear to the open end. The rolled up piece of paper was soon replaced by a hollow wooden tube. Laennec named his invention the ‘stethoscope’

By the 1850s, the stethoscope had become one of the doctor’s vital tools. Learning to listen and diagnose the sounds from the chest became an important part of a doctor’s training. In the 1890s, the hollow wooden tube was replaced by the rubber and now plastic, binaural stethoscope, much like stethoscopes that are used today. These stethoscopes have two ear pieces and a bell-like end that is placed on the body. Stethoscopes are not only used to listen to the chest but also other parts of the body such as the bowels and during pregnancy. Electronic stethoscopes that amplify the sounds in the chest and produce graphs were first produced in the 1970s and continue to be refined. Today, a stethoscope around the neck is one of the most popular images of the medical profession.

Laennec,  born in 1781 in France, studied medicine under his physician uncle in Nantes until he was called to serve as a medical cadet in the French Revolution.In 1816, shyness led Laennec to invent the stethoscope. Some believe he was inspired by the flute, which he used to play. The term is derived from the Greek words 'stethos' for chest, and 'scopos' for examination. The instrument was swiftly adopted across France and wider Europe, before spreading to the US.

Laennec died of tuberculosis aged just 45 in 1826, but was aware of the importance of his discovery, calling it "the greatest legacy of my life."

In digital era, stethoscope has also become electronic, those  amplify the sounds in the chest and produce graphs were developed in the 1970s. Now, doctors agree that a minimum of 10 minutes is required to fully examine a patient using a stethoscope, and that radiographs are required to identify the majority of underlying chest problems.  Handheld ultrasonic devices can now diagnose various conditions, and concerns have also been raised over how hygienic the instruments are. Medical journal  The Lancet detailed how researchers had collected 100 stethoscopes from various departments in a London teaching hospital and found bugs on all of them, with 21 carrying staphylococci, one of the bacteria that cause food poisoning. However, wiping the bell and diaphragm of the instrument with disinfectant after use on each patient practically eliminates this risk.

Recently stethoscopes are becoming increasingly digitised - last year, a new stethoscope transmitted sounds from the heart and lungs to a smartphone app and directly to a digital database.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
17th Feb 2016.


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