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Why the traditional stethoscope is no longer sufficient in EMS

Noisy working environments and evolving roles for prehospital providers call for enhanced sound quality and data-capturing capabilities for auscultation


Sponsored by Eko

By Rachel Zoch, EMS1 BrandFocus Staff

Prehospital providers operate in all kinds of environments, particularly chaotic scenes like car crashes and structure fires, where there’s a lot of noise and distraction. Even more controllable environments like someone’s home can involve noise distraction from a frantic family member or aggressive pet. The noise challenges don’t end there. Once the patient is loaded into the ambulance, providers then have to contend with constant motion, road noise and the piercing wail of their own siren.

Emergency medical care often happens in noisy environments, but medics need to hear heart and lung sounds reliably and clearly. EMS providers should look beyond the traditional analog stethoscope for modern, digital tools that can enhance their listening experience.
Emergency medical care often happens in noisy environments, but medics need to hear heart and lung sounds reliably and clearly. EMS providers should look beyond the traditional analog stethoscope for modern, digital tools that can enhance their listening experience. (Eko Health)

In short, it’s a noisy job. But no matter the circumstance, medics need to be able to hear heart and lung sounds for a confident assessment.

EMS1 sat down with Nam Truong, a 30-year EMS veteran and sales director with Eko, to discuss why EMS providers should look beyond the traditional analog tube-and-bell stethoscope to meet today’s challenges, as well as keep up with the changing demands of prehospital care.

Is your stethoscope up to the task?

Aside from the noise problem, think about the changing role of the EMS provider, says Truong.

“If you take a step back and you think about the bigger picture and the longer term, I definitely see a blending of roles for EMS,” he said. “As these care models and hospitals and health systems are trying to be creative and put their resources where the most utilization is, I can see prehospital providers being deployed more for traditional healthcare-type episodes.”

For example, as hospitals try to manage their resources as wisely as possible in the age of COVID-19, patients that aren’t sick enough to be admitted to the hospital could potentially be managed at home by visiting care providers, including paramedics and EMTs.

That creates a need for technology to not only assess the patient directly, but also to share those findings with remote support providers and specialists, says Truong.

“Maybe they hear some interesting lung sounds that they’re not trained necessarily to identify or diagnose,” he said. “They could have the capability to call into the command center, ask for a physician to hop on and share those heart and lung sounds in real time utilizing a technology like Eko.”

Why go digital?

The digital approach to auscultation matters for two key reasons, says Truong – one is sound quality, the other is the ability to share data.

As community paramedicine and mobile integrated healthcare become more widespread, the expansion of EMS presents several compelling use cases for a digital stethoscope that can share heart and lung sounds, he adds. One such use case is rural telemedicine, where EMS may be stepping in as a primary care provider when none other is available. Another is a triage model that blends 911 with the emergency room to better manage hospital resources.

“It’s providing an opportunity to triage patients in the field and also manage hospital resources at the same time,” said Truong. “Those are two cases where I think remote listening can be very helpful.”

3 options for better sound and more information in the field (and beyond)

Eko Health offers three options for digital stethoscope enhancement with noise canceling and volume enhancement to address both the problem of ambient noise and the need for remote, real-time data-sharing:

  1. Eko CORE Digital Attachment, to enhance the stethoscope you already own.
  2. 3M Littmann CORE Digital Stethoscope, a cardiology-grade stethoscope pre-assembled with Eko technology.
  3. Eko DUO ECG + Digital Stethoscope, a cardiac examination system that combines ECG and auscultation.

“The technology can have an impact on the day-to-day, real-world experiences that EMS providers are having right now with sound quality,” said Truong, “and we also pair that active noise cancellation technology with a very high-quality acoustic stethoscope from 3M, which is widely regarded as one of the best manufacturers of stethoscopes in the world.”

All three Eko CORE devices provide high sound quality, as well as the ability to share heart and lung sounds with remote specialists and other supporting providers.

Key benefits:

  • Ease of use (one-button operation).
  • Compatibility with various audio devices for convenience, comfort and mobility.
  • Active noise cancellation to eliminate background noise and reduce environmental distractions.
  • Volume amplification.
  • High-quality sound and clarity.
  • Record and save auscultation sessions.
  • Share auscultation sessions with remote support providers.
Eko Health offers three options for digital stethoscope enhancement: 1. Eko CORE Digital Attachment, 2. 3M Littmann CORE Digital Stethoscope and 3. Eko DUO ECG + Digital Stethoscope.
Eko Health offers three options for digital stethoscope enhancement: 1. Eko CORE Digital Attachment, 2. 3M Littmann CORE Digital Stethoscope and 3. Eko DUO ECG + Digital Stethoscope. (Eko Health)

One-button operation

Perhaps the most important feature Eko offers is seamless integration of its digital tools into one of the most familiar medical tools. Simply place the stethoscope’s bell on the patient’s chest as usual, flip the switch on the CORE attachment for active noise cancellation, then use the “plus” and “minus” buttons to adjust the volume.

“That’s the beauty of it – it’s literally as simple as turning it on,” said Truong. “At the flip of one switch, you can get active noise canceling, you can amplify the sound, you can share sounds if you want to. It just gives you so much versatility in a device that is in a familiar form factor not only for the provider, but also for patients.”

Recording, saving and sharing those sounds is managed either through using the Eko app (a free download for Google or iOS) or integration of the key features into the agency’s own ePCR platform.

“The goal is to create a scenario where there’s only one app or program that would be required for the provider to access,” said Truong.

EMS providers should be looking beyond the traditional analog stethoscope for a modern, digital tool that can offer enhanced sound quality and other critical clinical features. With a digital stethoscope attachment like those available from Eko Health, medics can address the noise problem with a familiar tool and workflow that doesn’t get in their way. Improved sound quality enables providers in the field to better assess hard-to-hear heart and lung sounds, share information with remote supporting providers and provide confident patient care even in the most challenging environments.

For more information, visit Eko.

Read Next: Eko launches Eko Academy to help medical students and healthcare providers strengthen their stethoscope skills and auscultation knowledge

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