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A stethoscope app

And now it’s free

The stethoscope is coming of age – that is, making a giant leap into the present. Like hundreds of other tasks, iPhones now have an app for listening to the heartbeat with iStethoscope.

It’s been around for a while and has, in fact, been downloaded well over 3 million times, by healthcare professionals and the lay population alike. But now, it’s free. Or, for 99¢ you could procure the “pro” variety. The latter allows you to email the heart wave and 8 seconds of the audio, on top of being able to listen to the beat.

As long as the user (of whom there are 500 new ones daily) knows where to place the iPhone’s microphone – any of those 6 vital locations between the ribs -- not press too hard, and make sure to press the device against skin – not clothing – the heartbeat will be heard -- strong and true.

It’s predicted that 80% of physicians will be whipping out their iPhones to gauge patients’ heartbeats by 2012. In fact, at least three American universities already require undergraduates to use one – Georgetown U., the University of Louisville, and Ohio State. These students have the luxury of seeing a phonocardiograph and spectrograph in seconds, as they learn to decipher the beats.

Apple’s iStethoscope app’s creator Peter Bentley, a researcher from Britain’s University College London, is a happy man and has many other applications he’s anxious to have approved (such as one to measure oxygen in the blood) – no easy feat for novel technologies in healthcare, due to the grey area of new medical device regulations.

Among the many others that do exist, however, there’s an app for instant ECGs, and one for fetal heart tracings used during labour, called AirStrip OB. But I don’t think stethoscope makers need to worry just yet.
Milena Katz