Stethoscope Buying Guide: How to Choose a Stethoscope?
By BestRatedDocs | Last Updated: 11 April, 2018
Being a doctor, what is that one medical instrument that stays with you throughout your life? Yes, you are right, it is a Stethoscope!
A stethoscope is a hallmark to a doctor’s profession. When it is around your neck then people can easily recognize you as a doctor. Stethoscope is a stereotypical diagnostic tool, which is used by every doctor worldwide. But out there are different types of stethoscopes available, which make the selection procedure a daunting one.
So, how can you find the best stethoscope as per your requirements?
The simple way is to read this post!
This post is the most comprehensive stethoscope buying guide. It would help you to not just pick the best one, but would also educate you about everything related to this too.
So, without taking more time, let’s get started.
What is a Stethoscope?
A stethoscope is one of the most important diagnostic tools for a healthcare professional. It helps a healthcare expert to diagnose heart, lungs, and chest problems in a patient before the condition becomes severe and life-threatening.
Even simple breathing issues can result in a severe pulmonary dysfunction. Hence, diagnosing lungs and heart through a stethoscope is a basic step of diagnosis, which every doctor practices. know more
How does a Stethoscope Works?
This medical device is designed to identify internal body movements and sounds through vibrations.
Usually, it is composed of a curved or flat chest piece covered with a film coating like a drum, known as the diaphragm. When sound vibrations meet diaphragm then this amplifies the sound, which is then transmitted to the doctor’s ear through a sealed hollow tube.
The variation in stethoscope quality implies how well it is able to pick and transmit sound while maintaining highest accuracy levels and without resulting in any false detailing. For this reason, most of the health experts prefer dual – headed stethoscope with a bigger diaphragm as it is ideal to pick high-frequency vibrations. A smaller diaphragm size ensures that the stethoscope will collect low-frequency sound vibrations.
What Factors to Consider for Picking the Best Stethoscope for Your Requirements?
The very first factor to consider while selecting a stethoscope is to identify its primary use. Whether you are a veterinarian, pediatric, physician, cardiologist, nursing student, or any other medical expert, depending on the use, you can select a stethoscope.
Depending on your medical practice, you may select a stethoscope that holds maximum noise cutting feature, multiple diaphragms, and a comfortable headset.
There are numerous types of chest pieces comprising a different diaphragm and bell design. If you are not sure about such pieces then it is better to spend less money on the initial purchase and then experiment with brands offering distinct sorts of diaphragms.
Most of the professionals prefer investing money in standard, cheap diaphragm, while there are a handful of them that consider buying responsive diaphragms based on the pressure placed on them. Others, especially with hearing issues may prefer electronic stethoscopes from a reputed brand.
If you are buying it for the first time then it would be wise to purchase a double-headed diaphragm with one side flat and another side domed. This will help you fine-tune the noises on each spectrum – high, medium, and low pitched.
Also, do check to purchase a non-chill diaphragm with a promising model.
Single or Double Tube
A major point of consideration among experts is to pick a stethoscope with a single tube or with a double tube on a consistent basis. Double wall tube is surely thicker and designed particularly to isolate the sound from the diaphragm coming to your ears.
But there are numerous recommendations out there suggesting that a single wall tube is always a better choice. If you are at the start of your career then spending on a single tube is worth. It is because experimenting with a double tube diaphragm can result in confusion.
Leaf spring is a mechanism that helps to control the tension of headset tube. Adjustability and weight of material are two important things to consider.
If you select for a non-adjustable, tight headset then this might not be suitable for professionals with a bigger hear. On the other hand, stethoscopes with loose tension may not snug well to your ears. Hence, in both, the cases performing a perfect diagnosis would be a lot more difficult.
Just invest some more money as this will help you get a headset that is acoustically comfortable and superior in that it can be adjusted to fit inside the ears perfectly and does not cause any damage to your eardrums.
Design of the Ear-tip
Sure, you would not want to skimp on ear tips, even if the use is less often. Eartips with soft-silicone sealing will ensure that you have a comfortable grip every time. You would want the material to be prepared from regular disinfections without resulting in cracking or drying.
The best way is to identify an appropriate eartip is to check reviews from existing users. They can provide you with genuine reviews.
Check for Hand Polished Tube
Though handcrafted stethoscope is not an ideal choice, it can deliver optimum result if you purchase it from a reputed brand.
It is because if there is poor craftsmanship from the manufacturer then there will be a major problem in the tubing. Most of them would do check for high-quality of the diaphragm but would compromise on the quality of tubing.
An exterior surface with poor polish would look absolutely bad, an interior surface with poor polish which results in poor acoustic performance and higher difficulty in diagnosing the patients properly. But when it is about tubing – be it copper or metal, then the entire responsibility is of the manufacturer.
Do check for ‘hand polished’ label in the product description. This would ensure that you get the best acoustics results in the stethoscope.
Inspect the Materials Used
It is extremely important to inspect the material used in preparing the stethoscope. Cheap materials are affordable and perfect if they have an FDA approved certification. But those with antimicrobial and stainless steel tubing are unmatched. They deliver superior performance and long-lasting durability. Though one made with stainless steel might be slightly weighty, but they are worth the investment.
Check the Additional Parts
Not all manufacturers would allow you inspect the ‘consumable’ parts of a stethoscope. You can try them only when you buy the piece.
The consumable parts mainly comprise non-chill rings, ear tips, retaining rings, diaphragms, and relevant tags. You need to register the product before you purchase it. So, once you bought the product do check for all such parts beforehand. Might be, you can get the piece exchanged if found faulty.
Check the Reviews
The best way to pick the finest stethoscope as per your requirements is to check reviews from established professionals who have been practising for a while. Their reviews are important and can give you an opinion of essential tools. The more reviews you check, the better idea you would have regarding comfort and quality of the stethoscope.
What are the Different Types of Stethoscopes?
There are varieties of stethoscopes available in the market. While the basic functionality of each one of them is the same, they vary depending on various other aspects.
Hence, picking the best one is possible only when you are aware of all the different types stethoscopes.
Classic or Acoustic Stethoscope
These stethoscopes work on the classic principle based on sound waves reflection within its tube. One end of the stethoscope has a chest piece containing one or multiple membranes that capture and sound from patient’s chest. The captured sound is then transmitted to the doctor through a tube.
The other end of stethoscope has a binaural piece with a function to distribute the sound the send it to each ear in an optimal way. There are ear-tips at its end that seal the consists of a binaural piece and prevent loss of sound.
Most of the traditional stethoscopes usually have two distinct sides of diameter, which is a larger diameter, diaphragm, and a smaller diameter. The bell captures low-frequency sound while the diaphragm captures the sound of higher frequencies.
But advancement over them is the Littmann stethoscopes that function on dual frequency membranes. Littmann is a brand of stethoscopes, which is readily available in the market. Hence, being a doctor it is important that you are aware of it as it can create a huge difference in your diagnosis.
With Littmann stethoscope, it is possible to capture high and low frequencies from both sides of the f chest piece. Since it contains a dual frequency membrane, so there is no requirement to adjust the bell to capture sound frequencies of varying levels.
Littmann stethoscope allows precise diagnosis by placing little pressure on the patient’s skin. With less pressure, you can capture low-frequency sounds, while with firm pressure you can capture high-frequency pressure.
Also known as digital stethoscopes, they have a digital membrane that captures more sound and bigger frequency levels. Moreover, the sound is not directly transferred to the ears. It is first processed that makes it easier to conduct the diagnosis and to identify anomalies.
One excellent aspect of an electronic stethoscope is its powerful sound amplification system. This feature allows accurate diagnosis in patients with obesity.
Another amazing feature is its noise reduction technology for frictional and environmental noise. It is not necessary that your hospital is always quiet and relaxing. So, when sound is amplified then it is possible that the background noise may interrupt. To avoid this problem the electronic stethoscope is able to offer precise and clear auscultations.
Most of the electronic stethoscopes it is possible to save auscultations and eventually send and save them to the computer through a Bluetooth connection. With this functionality it is possible to include auscultations in sending email reports to the patients, planning medical reports, and display the graph as a phonogram.
Such stethoscopes are simple on design. The end of the diaphragm is placed on the core point to identify light sounds. These stethoscopes have a single functionality, and hence, are mainly seen with a gynaecologist.
These stethoscopes have a larger diaphragm that is fine-tuned to identify even most silent sounds. It is particularly used by cardiologists to pick heart abnormalities like arrhythmia and murmurs.
These stethoscopes are not ideal for experts who work in noisy environments or busy clinics as this device requires complete silence to perform.
The pediatric stethoscope is designed in a way similar to acoustic stethoscopes. But it differs in sound. It has a smaller bell and diaphragm enabling to pick softer tone easily in a toddler and infant heartbeat. Different brands would have a different sensitive diaphragm. So, keep all points in mind when buying a stethoscope.
Such stethoscopes are completely electronic. It is mainly used in emergency situations it is because it allows to conveniently pick up ultrasound waves to identify minor and major heart issues.
If still have confusion then check this amazing stethoscope buying guide video:
How You Can Select a Stethoscope Based on Your Medical Specialty?
So far I have discussed the about different types of stethoscopes and the important factors to consider to pick the best one. But this distinction is not enough to make a sound decision.
It is important to pick a stethoscope that is best fit to your specialty!
For this, you need to consider your specialty and performance level you expect from your stethoscope.
If you are an Anesthesiologists, Cardiologists, Pulmonologists, and Internists, and Other Specialties
If your professional practice needs accurate auscultations then you need a high-performance model designed specifically for that requirement. A high precision design ensures to offer maximum detail possible to sounds of heart and murmurs. It even helps to identify abdominal and respiratory sounds. Its aim is to gather subtleties and details with maximum accuracy.
Out there are varieties of stethoscopes available. So, check for one that is designed and labeled for the specific functionality. This stethoscope is the most modern, reliable, and technological solution.
If you want stethoscope for General Medicine, Emergency Medicine, Nursing, Family Medicine, and other General Areas of Medical Practice
In this situation you can pick a stethoscope that delivers decent functionality and performance. Your stethoscope must enable to you perform general cardiac auscultations; make abdominal auscultations, measure arterial blood pressure, and perform more other general functions.
But general stethoscopes can cause difficulty in making slight nuances, auscultations, and hearing sounds.
You must therefore be clear to choose a high – performing stethoscope that delivers higher levels of durability, acoustic details, and reliability. Though, this can be a more expensive investment but this is worth if you are expecting long-term use.
If you want Stethoscope for Nursing Student or Medical Student
A stethoscope that can serve most of the initial functionalities is ideal for a nursing and medical student. It is best to go for a reliable yet economical solution.
Stethoscopes designed for this purpose may lack hearing murmurs and sounds of S4 and S3 in general they enable to conduct general auscultations and general diagnosis without causing much problem.
Here I would like to mention that such stethoscopes may not last long. It is because they are made of moderate quality materials. But this must not be a problem for the students. It is because they are aware about obtaining such models for use while being a student.
So, in such a case check for a stethoscope that is designed to offer perfect diagnostic capabilities even though they are not durable. This way, they will be able to overcome major shortcomings which would occur in your medical practice on a daily basis. Checkout our detailed guide on Best Stethoscopes for Nursing and Medical Students.
If you are Veterinarian or Pediatrician
The important factor for veterinary or pediatric stethoscopes is its bell and diaphragm size. With small infants and animals, it is essential to use membranes with smaller diameters. This way it is possible to efficiently isolate external sounds.
In such a case using a general stethoscope is not going to solve the purpose as they are unfit to diagnose medium-sized animals and small children. Hence, you may pick stethoscopes with dual-frequency diaphragms of distinct diameters. In this case, it would be best if you pick a stethoscope with a diaphragm ideal for thin patients, small children, and medium size animals.
Also, there are specific models created for veterinary and pediatrics medicine. It is designed for professionals who are dedicated to perform such specialties. While a stethoscope with double sided tunable chest piece would be an ideal choice, just remember that this is not the perfect tool.
Being a veteran or pediatric specialist I would suggest you to pick models, which are specifically designed for this purpose.
Tips to Take Care of Your Stethoscope
It is important that you pick the best stethoscope for your requirements. But at the same time, it is equally vital to take proper care of the device. Only then it would be able to deliver you lasting performance and optimal functionality.
So, check here some of the top tips to take proper care of your stethoscope.
- Use a stethoscope by first tapping on the earpiece. This will ensure that there are no cracks or holds in the earpiece, tube. Also, it will confirm that the diaphragm is seated properly.
- If possible then adjust the headset properly to the eartips so that it fits well and properly obstructs the ambient noise.
- Make sure the earpiece is always faced forward. If this is not the case then you would not be able to listen properly.
- Use the chest piece from diaphragm side to hear high and low pitched sounds. The flat side is ideal for listening low pitched sound only.
- Position the stethoscope in a way so that the patient is comfortable.
Make sure you place the stethoscope to the point of core assessment. Only then you would be able to obtain precise diagnosis.
Top Stethoscope Brands
Despite having so much information, I am sure you would still have confusion!
What are the best stethoscope brands?
Here I list some of the top-notch stethoscope brands that are famous worldwide. Just remember that it is always better to purchase a cheaper stethoscope of reputed brands or a costly stethoscope of lesser known brands.
Besides this, have a quick glance at the top stethoscope brands:
It is one of the best and oldest stethoscope brands that date back to 1960s. The design of the stethoscope was first patented by Dr. David Litttman, an American physician. At that time, there were only two models available.
But now Littmann offers a comprehensive range of stethoscopes catering the needs of every specialty. It is the most trusted and popular stethoscope brand among healthcare experts across the world. Specifically, in UK and USA, there will hardly be any medical expert who is unaware of this brand.
The manufacturing of Littmann stethoscopes is done in the USA. But you can easily get it by making a purchase online.
American Diagnostic or ADC
Another famous stethoscope brand is ADC, which has been manufacturing medical equipment since 1984. This brand is famous mainly in the USA and is lesser known in other parts of the world.
It produces the famous Adscope range of stethoscopes, which are known for their lasting durability. You can get stethoscopes from this brand at discounted rates by making a booking online.
A new stethoscope brand from Parker Medical, it has made a mark in the industry in a short span of time. With its lively and colorful designs, the stethoscopes form this brand are famous among pediatrics and nurses.
Though the durability and acoustic quality of stethoscopes from this brand are quite less, then the price is also lower, and hence, worth it. Purchasing stethoscopes from this brand would provide you with a lifetime warranty. But avoid buying from it if you looking for high accuracy for detailed cardiovascular examinations and a heart murmur.
If you are looking for a light-weight and high-quality stethoscope, then one from MDF is an ideal choice. The company is manufacturing medical devices since 1971. The stethoscopes provided from this brand are sufficient for examinations of all levels.
This brand is famous for manufacturing stethoscopes for students and nursing experts. It is a cheerful brand famous for producing cheaper stethoscopes. Even you might have noticed its production spares on trolleys and wards and even in first-aid kits. These stethoscopes might not be an ideal choice for most of the healthcare professionals because of personal ownership.
Welch – Allyn
An American brand, it is in business since 1915 and is famous for producing an extensive array of medical devices and stethoscopes. Till 2015, it was operated as a family business, but now it is a highly trusted brand among medical experts and is even famous for its health monitoring devices.
If you are looking for an affordable solution from a famous brand, which is ideal to serve most of the general purposes, then this is an ideal choice.
The stethoscope is undoubted, the most powerful tool for quality diagnostics and identifying the beginning of a severe ailment. It is a life-saving tool that a medical expert can have at its disposal. So make sure you vigilantly select a model that delivers outstanding performance and holds quality craftsmanship.