The Evolution Of The Stethoscope

We’re all familiar with the classic image of a medical professional, with their the white coat or scrubs, and the ever-present stethoscope around the neck. The stethoscope is an iconic piece of medical equipment, and as it is so routinely used, is the one that is probably the most well-known. Its modern design is rather basic: a metal disc that is attached to a tube with earpieces for listening to a patient’s heartrate or breathing. The device has an interesting history behind how it got to the technology that we use today, so let’s have a look at the evolution of this illustrious piece of medical paraphernalia.


Humble Beginnings

The first stethoscope was something of a resourceful invention. It was 1816 when the French physician Rene Laennec began using stethoscopes in their first form. Using a long, rolled up piece of thick paper, Laennec fashioned a funnel-like device that could concentrate the sound and direct the sound into the listener’s ear. He named the curious instrument “stethoscope”, from the Greek stethos, meaning chest, and skopein, translating as to view or see. It was in 1825 that George P. Camman developed the binaural stethoscope that used both ears; this design was used for about a century, until modifications began taking place.

Further Developments

Fast forward as far as the 1960s, and the stethoscope was developed further. Dr David Littman, a medical professor at Harvard University and revered cardiologist, patented a more advanced form of the stethoscope. It had greater acoustic capabilities, and revolutionised the medical world. 3M acquired Littman’s company to become 3M-Littman, one of the world’s leading stethoscope companies today. The stethoscope experienced a few more changes under the new business, such as the hard disc, or diaphragm, and the silicone-covered tubing, creating an optimised piece of medical and health equipment.

Stethoscopes Today

These days, stethoscopes are used by medical professionals all over the world. They are important as they establish the first contact between doctor and patient, and act an something of an icebreaker, creating a sense of bond and trust between the two. There are a range of technological advancements and stethoscope products on the market today for different purposes, such as electronic devices, foetal, dopplers and 3D printed varieties, to name a few. All of these help our doctors to perform and give their patients the best care possible.