In defense of the stethoscope

Respir Care. 2008 Mar;53(3):355-69.


The stethoscope is widely considered to be an unreliable instrument. Many studies document the significant observer variability in its use. Numerous other diagnostic tools are available that are generally regarded to provide more reliable diagnostic information. Some even argue that teaching of the ancient art should be de-emphasized in medical schools. Yet auscultation with an acoustic stethoscope can provide important, even life-saving, information. The purpose of this article is to present evidence that supports the use of the stethoscope in clinical medicine. The argument for the stethoscope will be made by presenting relevant investigations, including clinical studies acknowledged to meet the criteria of evidence-based medicine. It will focus on studies that have employed computerized acoustic technology to correlate lung sounds with disease states. This technology has advanced in recent years, which has stimulated a resurgence of interest in auscultation. Numerous studies have been done that utilized objective methods that circumvented the problem of observer variability. There is now a good deal of scientific evidence to support the hypothesis that lung sounds contain information that is clinically useful. This technology also allows this information to be collected more efficiently than previously possible. Advances in educational technology have made it possible to impart information on auscultation much more easily than was possible in the past. Contrary to predictions, the stethoscope is not likely to be relegated to the museum shelf in the near future. Computer technology is making it an even more useful clinical instrument.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Equipment Design
  • Female
  • Heart Auscultation* / standards
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Liniments
  • Lung Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Observer Variation
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / diagnosis
  • Respiratory Sounds
  • Stethoscopes* / trends


  • Liniments