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How Do I Choose the Best Stethoscope?

A stethoscope.
A healthcare provider with a stethoscope around his neck.
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  • Written By: Amanda Barnhart
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 25 October 2014
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Medical students and those working in the medical field often use stethoscopes on a daily basis, so choosing the best one is important. Which stethoscope is the best depends largely on your needs and what features fit you. The main factors to look at are the ear pieces, the tubing, the bell and diaphragm, and how the stethoscope is powered.

Stethoscope ear pieces come in slightly different types and some come with interchangeable ear pieces. Since the ear pieces are what allow you to properly hear body sounds, you’ll want to select ear pieces that fit tightly and comfortably in your ears. Some ear pieces are made of hard plastic, while others are soft and conform to the ear canal. No matter which type you choose, make sure you can remove them easily for cleaning and to replace them.

Check the tubing of a stethoscope thoroughly before purchasing it. Some stethoscopes have two tubes that run side by side, while others feature a single piece of tubing with two smaller tubes inside. Single-tubed stethoscopes are often preferable because they don’t transfer noise from the two pieces of tubing rubbing together.

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Ensure the tubing is insulated well enough to keep outside noises to a minimum. To test this, rub your fingers back and forth along the tubing with the ear pieces in place and listen for any loud interference. If you don’t hear anything or the noises are very soft, the stethoscope is insulated well. Tubing also comes in various colors and patterns to add a personalized touch.

Many stethoscopes incorporate the bell, which allows you to hear low frequency sounds, and the diaphragm, which allows you to hear high frequency sounds, into one double-sided piece. These stethoscopes allow you to switch between the bell and diaphragm by turning the chest piece so that sounds from one side don’t come through when you’re listening body sounds with the other side. Triple-headed stethoscopes that feature a corrugated diaphragm to listen to a wider range of sounds are also available. Choose a stethoscope with a chest piece that is easy for you to operate and allows you to hear the range of frequencies you need to listen to regularly.

Electronic stethoscopes offer some advantages over traditional acoustic ones. Battery-operated electronic stethoscopes allow you to amplify the sound, making them a good choice for people with hearing problems or those who work in particularly noisy settings. Many also feature a display that shows a digital display of heart rate, and some allow users to download data into a computer for the patient’s medical records. Electronic stethoscopes do tend to be pricey, and they can amplify sounds to damaging levels in some cases.

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