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The Stethoscope Is Not Just a Prop

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by: Jane M. Orient, M.D.

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Stock photos of “healthcare workers” who attend patients—physicians are no longer distinguishable—usually feature a stethoscope draped around the neck.

But some, such as cardiologist Eric Topol, consider the stethoscope obsolete, nothing more than a pair of “rubber tubes.”

The most important part of the stethoscope is the part between the ears. But some think that will be replaced by artificial intelligence, and the rubber tubes by sophisticated electronic gizmos costing at least ten times as much as the humble stethoscope.

High tech is wonderful and increasingly capable, but if the stethoscope is dying, so is the art of clinical medicine.

The proper use of the stethoscope requires the doctor to touch, listen to the patient, and spend some time with a living person, not a computer. Patient and physician must cooperate: “Stop breathing,” “Take a big deep breath,” “Lean forward,” and so on. More

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