The Medical Professional’s Guide to Buying a Stethoscope
What makes one stethoscope stand out from another? This is a question many medical professionals may have asked themselves at one point in their lives, as it can be quite difficult to identify the differences in form or function between various models. The fact of the matter is that stethoscopes can actually vary quite significantly, with some models offering considerably more than others.
If you want to learn more about the most important aspects of a stethoscope, and how to identify which models are going to be the right choice for your needs, check out this comprehensive stethoscope buying guide for medical professionals.
Hands down this is going to be the most significant element of any stethoscope that you look at, as it is what is going to determine its ability to detect sounds and enable you to complete your diagnostic activities. Today, most stethoscopes feature dual head chestpieces, which include a traditional diaphragm on one side and an open bell on the other. The diaphragm allows you to check the respiratory system of your patients, while the open bell is for monitoring the cardiovascular system. Since these are so commonplace nowadays, there is little reason to choose a single head model over a dual head, as the former will only limit your use of the stethoscope over time.
In terms of materials, most models make the chestpiece out of some form of metal, with aluminum and stainless steel being the two most popular choices. Much of the overall weight of a stethoscope is going to come from the chestpiece, so you should look for models that use a lightweight material in order to keep the entire unit as light as can be.
When you place the chestpiece on a patient’s skin, the tubing is what helps deliver the sound up to your ears. Many modern stethoscopes use a form of PVC tubing instead of rubber latex, as it is more durable and thus less prone to tears or rips. A latex-free product is very important for medical professionals because many patients can have severe allergies to latex, with some completely unaware of the allergy altogether. This type of tubing can also help with the acoustics of the stethoscope, allowing more of the sound captured by the chestpiece to be transmitted to the upper components so that you can actually hear the internal sounds of the patient.
You can find models with Y-shape tubing, or with two independent tubes that connect directly to each ear. There is little variation in sound quality among these two types, though the Y-shape is more common. As a side note, most of the customization options of stethoscopes have to do with the tubing, specifically in terms of the color. This is because the tubing is the biggest component of a stethoscope visually, as well as being the easiest to create with different colors without compromising the quality or structural integrity of the actual device. It’s important to remember that the final color of a stethoscope will have no real impact on its ability to function, making it a strictly cosmetic option.
This is the part of the stethoscope at the upper end, opposite the chestpiece, which comes into contact with your head (hence the name). The most important aspect to look for in the headset is an ergonomic design, as this will help to protect your ears from damage as well as improve your overall comfort during use. Since most professionals will be wearing stethoscopes on and off for many hours in a day, you want to choose a model that angles the ends in an arcing fashion so that the tips rest perpendicular to the ears. It may also help to look for models with reinforcing at the base, to help prevent damage from extending the ends to take the device on an off.
In the past, most stethoscopes had hard plastic eartips that offered a poor quality of sound, mostly due to the fact that they could not conform to the different shapes of ear canals. Today, virtually every professional model features soft rubber eartips, very similar to what you would find on a pair of in-ear headphones. The pliability of these eartips helps create a strong seal around the ear canal, blocking outside noise and allowing more of the sound to translate into the ear. Additionally, these models can increase your safety, as they do not slide deep into the ear canal, where they can potentially puncture your eardrums or cause similar harm.
Stethoscopes can go through a good amount of wear and tear during everyday use in virtually any medical setting, from large hospitals to small clinics, making durability a key consideration. The most important areas to focus on are the headset and the tubing, as these are what will most likely experience the hardest usage over time. The headset should be made out of a strong metal that can stand up to the frequent expansion and contraction that comes with widening the distance between eartips so that you can fit them into your ears. Always avoid models with plastic headsets, as these are not going to stand up to the demands of a real medical setting.
Patient and Practitioner Comfort
Comfort is a key consideration for both the person using the stethoscope and the patient on which it is being used. For the user, the model should be as light as possible so that it doesn’t cause strain when wearing it around your neck during periods of non-use, as well as reducing strain on your ears when it is in use. The eartips should also be soft, so that they don’t press too far into the ear canal.
As for patient comfort, the best model feature non-chill rings around the diaphragm and open bell, which prevent the cold metal of the chestpiece from coming into contact with the exposed skin of the patient. As an added bonus, these rings can also improve the seal around the skin, which helps to capture more sound and improve the functionality of the unit overall.
Some models may offer additional attachments for the headset and chestpiece, to give you a wider range of use or more comfort options. Certain stethoscopes may include additional pairs of eartips, either serving simply as a backup in case the current eartips become lost or damage, or as different size options. Choosing eartips that fit snugly in the ear without causing paint or falling out is integral to your overall comfort as well as ensuring your ability to listen properly. Other attachments may include different sized open bells and diaphragms, which can allow you to hear different sound frequencies or use the stethoscope on different types of patients, such as small children.
Importance of Portability
Thought it may seem like every stethoscope is portable by nature, some models make transportation much easier than others. Units that are made of aluminum or that use certain types of PVC tubing can weigh as little as a few ounces, which can significantly reduce the strain of carrying it around your neck as well as keep bags and backpacks as light as possible. There are also models that include carrying pouches, which not only make them much easier to transport but also offer additional protection for the eartips and chestpiece.
Other Key Considerations
After reviewing all of the factors above, it is important to think about the type of setting in which you are going to use the stethoscope most frequently. A busy hospital or clinic that includes very long shifts where you will see dozens of patients a day may necessitate a very strong and sturdy model, while an occupation in the emergency medical services field may mean you want a compact and lightweight unit. Think about the specific needs of your setting and the type of patients you are going to see, and this will help you answer any lingering questions you have about which stethoscope is best.