Eindhoven University of Technology: Researchers developed a new medical device to replace the stethoscope

What are the first thoughts that spring to mind when thinking about physicians? Probably white coats and a doctor’s most trusty tool, the stethoscope. Now more than 200 years old, this examination aid remains one of the most important tools of the physician, even though the device itself has hardly developed since the 1960s.

An innovation being developed at Aalto University may change this. With the aid of AI, the novel device analyses numerous bodily functions, produces a probable diagnosis and then proposes most appropriate follow-up examinations to the physician.

Researchers believe the device could replace the stethoscope and enable faster, more accurate diagnoses. It is being developed by the Vital Signs research group.

Everyday hospital life viewed through fresh eyes
Development of the device got started as part of Aalto University’s Biodesign programme, the concept of which originates from Stanford University. The idea is that a multidisciplinary team settles into a hospital environment to observe their needs and then comes up with technological innovations as solutions.

The research group behind Vital Signs participated in the project in 2019, spending four weeks at the HUS Cardiac Unit.

‘Our team consisted of a physician, an engineer and an economist, and the task was to observe the state of affairs at the hospital through outsider eyes and think of ways in which our specific expertise could help solve problems,’ says Alexis Kouros, the physician in charge of the Vital Signs research group.

One thing became clear immediately amidst the daily hustle and bustle of the hospital: the time a physician has to spend with an individual patient is short. In that brief moment, they must perform numerous examinations and measurements, such as listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope.

‘The stethoscope is “dumb”, analogue and pretty old-fashioned. Our team aimed to turn it into something smart and network-capable. We wanted to achieve this by making the stethoscope more effective and by automating other routine examinations,’ Kouros recounts.

The device developed by Vital Signs answers several examination needs of physicians simultaneously. Kouros compares the relationship between stethoscopes and the new device to the difference between landline phones and smartphones.

The real beauty of the new concept is, however, that the examination situation still feels familiar from the perspective of doctor and patient alike, it’s largely unchanged, says Kouros.

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