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Comparing the auscultatory accuracy of health care professionals using three different brands of stethoscopes on a simulator

Authors Mehmood M, Abu Grara H, Stewart J, Khasawneh F

Received 15 May 2014

Accepted for publication 3 June 2014

Published 14 August 2014 Volume 2014:7 Pages 273—281


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Mansoor Mehmood,1 Hazem L Abu Grara,1 Joshua S Stewart,2 Faisal A Khasawneh3

1Department of Internal Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, 2Surgical Intensive Care Unit, Northwest Texas Hospital, 3Section of Infectious Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Amarillo, TX, USA

Background: It is considered standard practice to use disposable or patient-dedicated stethoscopes to prevent cross-contamination between patients in contact precautions and others in their vicinity. The literature offers very little information regarding the quality of currently used stethoscopes. This study assessed the fidelity with which acoustics were perceived by a broad range of health care professionals using three brands of stethoscopes.
Methods: This prospective study used a simulation center and volunteer health care professionals to test the sound quality offered by three brands of commonly used stethoscopes. The volunteer's proficiency in identifying five basic ausculatory sounds (wheezing, stridor, crackles, holosystolic murmur, and hyperdynamic bowel sounds) was tested, as well.
Results: A total of 84 health care professionals (ten attending physicians, 35 resident physicians, and 39 intensive care unit [ICU] nurses) participated in the study. The higher-end stethoscope was more reliable than lower-end stethoscopes in facilitating the diagnosis of the auscultatory sounds, especially stridor and crackles. Our volunteers detected all tested sounds correctly in about 69% of cases. As expected, attending physicians performed the best, followed by resident physicians and subsequently ICU nurses. Neither years of experience nor background noise seemed to affect performance. Postgraduate training continues to offer very little to improve our trainees' auscultation skills.
Conclusion: The results of this study indicate that using low-end stethoscopes to care for patients in contact precautions could compromise identifying important auscultatory findings. Furthermore, there continues to be an opportunity to improve our physicians and ICU nurses' auscultation skills.

Keywords: auscultation skills, acoustics, training programs

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