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Will smartphones replace the stethoscope?

Will smartphones replace the stethoscope?

University of Porto Medical Faculty research shows there might be a new role for omnipresent devices

The Medical Faculty of the University of Porto (FMUP) revealed in a statement the news that thanks to evolving refinement in their microphones, smartphones can feasibly be also used as stethoscopes. This was the conclusion that a team of researchers from that institution reached recently in a study that has been published in the scientific journal Sensors.

For the time being, that does not mean that doctors will ditch their stethoscopes in favour of their phones just yet. However, these times of social distancing which gave rise to new avenues in health care, such as online consultations, the new role of the phones can come in quite handy.

Phones can capture but also record lung sounds

The medical term for listening to the inner operations of one’s body is called auscultation. That technique, which we are all familiar with, is primarily used by physicians as a first diagnostic and non-invasive step into the condition of a patient’s lungs.

The rise of smartphones and the arrival of the COVID pandemic might have created the perfect storm for the development of the former into a tool, which people can also use as a diagnostic device.

The FMUP study showed that the smartphone can be used as an alternative to the traditional stethoscope, as it is "capable of recording lung sounds with quality and capturing abnormal sounds", called adventitious noises.

More than 130 patients participated, most of whom with different types of respiratory pathologies. The first phase of the study consisted of physicians performing pulmonary auscultations in different spots of the body and recording their findings. Then the same spots were ‘listened to’ with a smartphone.

At a time when the number of consultations carried out at a distance has increased, this solution is, according to the authors of the study, "very interesting for the implementation of telemedicine services in the monitoring of respiratory diseases", such as asthma and cystic fibrosis.

Smartphones can reduce the crowding at the doctor’s offices while simultaneously improving lung health monitoring. Patients can carry the latter on their own with the help of their smartphone devices and an application called AIRDOC, which had been developed by the FMUP researchers.

The recordings can be listened to by the medical specialists and analyzed in order to determine the further need for treatment.

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