The stethoscope has a long and proud history, having been invented nearly 200 years ago. The stethoscope’s inventor, René Laennec, built the first version so that he wouldn’t have to put his ear to his patients’ lice-ridden chests. Laennec’s stethoscope was little more than a wooden tube that channeled sound waves a few inches. Today’s stethoscopes—through the aid of 3M technology—can transmit over hundreds of miles.
Laennec’s stethoscope wasn’t adopted by the medical community until George P. Cammann created a model that featured an earpiece for each ear. This made the device comfortable to use. Next came latex tubes, which gave doctors greater flexibility. This incarnation of the stethoscope was used for over 100 years, more or less unchanged. In the early 1960s, however, Dr. David Littmann developed a hard epoxy diaphragm that increased acoustic fidelity significantly.
Littmann formed Cardiosonics with partner Gus Machlup with the hopes of selling his revolutionary scope directly to doctors. Instead, the good doctor sold his technology to 3M, and Cardiosonics was absorbed into the tech giant. Fortunately, 3M didn’t stop with Littmann’s model. The company has steadily improved their stethoscopes, and today, the Littmann brand is viewed as the go-to stethoscope. The latest Littmann brand stethoscopes feature allergen-free non-latex tubes, a tunable diaphragm, Ambient Noise Reduction technology and Bluetooth connectivity.
Telemedicine is a big industry, and it’s only going to grow as “the Internet of things” takes hold. Recognizing this, 3M set out to create a system whereby doctors could use their Littmann stethoscopes over great distances. The 3M Littmann Scope-to-Scope Tele-Auscultation System is capable of transmitting high-fidelity sounds captured by the 3M Littmann Model 3200 stethoscope to another compatible stethoscope in real time. Dr. Eric Henley of North Country Healthcare in Flagstaff, Arizona praises the technology, noting that the need for high-quality equipment will grow exponentially as the world’s population increases.
Dr. Eric Henley points out that patients in hard-to-reach areas can now receive the same quality care as those who are face-to-face with a doctor in the world’s best care facilities. Most telemedicine systems are limited by data loss through satellite latency, but the noise reduction technology integrated into Littmann scopes allows them to filter these distractions out. In fact, the technology has been proven in the field in the most extraordinary of ways.
The Japanese Space Agency, JAXA, has taken an interest in the technology, hoping that it will address a serious problem that all space agencies face: agencies must select medical personnel for their ability to handle the rigors of living in space first and their medical prowess second. With Scope-to-Scope, experts on the ground can examine astronauts. Dr. Shin Yamada, a medical expert employed by the agency, had this to say: “As astronauts get further and further away from Earth, they won’t be able to simply make the trip back when there’s a problem.” Granted, the fixed speed of light will cause a delay as astronauts move further into space, but doctors on the ground will eventually receive the telemetry in full.