Effect of teaching and type of stethoscope on cardiac auscultatory performance

Am Heart J. 2006 Jul;152(1):85.e1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ahj.2006.04.013.


Background: Auscultation of the heart is a routine procedure. It is not known whether auscultatory skills can be improved by teaching or with the use of an advanced stethoscope.

Methods: This study was a randomized trial with a 2 x 2 factorial design. Seventy-two house officers were randomized to a simple or an advanced stethoscope and to a 4-hour course in auscultation or no course. The doctors auscultated 20 patients' hearts and categorized findings as normal or as one or more of 5 categories of heart diseases. Patients were selected such that 16 had a known heart disease as well as a corresponding murmur and 4 had no heart disease or murmur. Auscultatory performance was assessed as concordance with echocardiographic findings and interobserver variation.

Results: Doctors using the advanced stethoscope diagnosed 35% of the patients correctly, as compared with doctors using the simple stethoscope who did 33% of the patients (P = .27). Similarly, 34% of the patients were diagnosed correctly by doctors who had received teaching as compared with 33% of those who were by doctors who had received no teaching (P = .41). The kappa values were higher for doctors who had received teaching for aortic stenosis (0.43 vs 0.28, P = .004) and ventricular septum defect (0.07 vs 0.01, P = .003). There was no difference between groups for any other single murmur or for the detection of murmurs as such.

Conclusion: Heart auscultation findings were in poor accordance with echocardiographic findings and had high interobserver variation. Neither outcome improved to any important extent with the subjects' use of an advanced stethoscope or attending of a course in heart auscultation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Female
  • Heart Auscultation* / instrumentation
  • Heart Murmurs / diagnosis*
  • Heart Valve Diseases / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital
  • Middle Aged
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Stethoscopes*
  • Teaching*