It seems everything is moving from analog to digital these days: music, television, speedometers. And now, so too is one of the most traditional tools and symbols of medicine: the stethoscope. With the introduction of their electronic stethoscope line, Littmann is attempting to move the art of auscultation into the digital age. But is newer always better?
Out of the box
Immediately out of the box the Littmann 3000 has the look and feel of any other Littmann stethoscope. There is, however, one notable difference: the chestpiece. Gone is the traditional heavy head I’ve come to expect from a quality Littmann. If you’ve owned a Cardiology II/III or Master you know what I’m talking about. Those things can be swung like a morning star for self-defense (an occasional necessity in the ED). The head on the 3000 appears to be made from a thin aluminum. While lighter around the neck it makes the chestpiece feel cheap in comparison to other models.
Beneath the surface
While the chestpiece is the only real difference between the 3000 and other Littmann stethoscopes, this difference is more than skin deep. On the head lie four buttons. These are responsible for turning the stethoscope on/off, controlling volume, and controlling bell vs. diaphragm. On the flip-side is the diaphragm. Littmann claims that the diaphragm is specially designed to be usable on all sizes and surfaces of chests. While I think this claim may be true I don’t think those who care for infants will trade in their pediatric stethoscopes any time soon.
How does the Littmann 3000 stack up where the rubber meets the road; auscultation? Like any other new product, the 3000 has pros and cons. On the plus side is the fact that volume is adjustable to accommodate those heavy iPod users out there who’s hearing is going. I also found the quality of the audio to be equivalent to my prior Littmann stethoscopes. The down-side here is that despite Littmann’s patented Ambient Noise Reduction (ANR) the 3000 still picks up an excessive amount of outside noise, in my experience. As long as you have a good seal this comes mainly in the form of noise from the chestpiece and/or the tubing. What does the mean to you? It means that you must maintain a very steady hand and have a cooperative patient in order to get good audio. The other component to this is the seal. This is not a stethoscope that you can use through clothing. If you’re the type that is not in the habit of placing your stethoscope directly on the patient’s skin then the 3000 is not for you. Once a good seal is obtained and your hand is steadied the audio from the 3000 is unrivaled. You’ll hear cardiac and pulmonary sounds better than ever.
While the chestpiece felt slightly cheap I found the Littmann 3000 to be a fine stethoscope with great acoustics when used properly. Therein lies the rub. The 3000 takes patience and care to use properly. Those in a hurry or not willing to take the extra steps to ensure proper use will be disappointed with their investment. Everyone else will come away pleased. Bottom-line is that when I send this stethoscope back to Littmann I will likely purchase a 3000 for myself.
EPM’s Tech Doc column by Dr. Jason Wagner has no affiliation with Littman or any other product manufacturer. This is an independent product review, conducted by emergency physicians, for emergency physicians.
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