RFID Stethoscope Wheezes and Murmurs for Medical Training

You’d think that with as many sick people as there are in the world, it wouldn’t be too difficult for a doctor in training to get practice. It’s easy to get experience treating common complaints like colds and the flu, but it might take the young doctor a while to run across a dissecting abdominal aortic aneurysm, and that won’t be the time for on the job training.

Enter the SP, or standardized patient – people trained to deliver information to medical students to simulate a particular case. There’s a problem with SPs, though. While it’s easy enough to coach someone to deliver an oral history reflecting a medical condition, the student eventually needs to examine the SP, which will reveal none of the signs and symptoms associated with the simulated case. To remedy this, [Chris Sanders] and [J Scott Christianson] from the University of Missouri developed an open-source RFID stethoscope to simulate patient findings.

This is one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” ideas. A cheap stethoscope is fitted with an Arduino, and RFID reader, and a small audio board. RFID tags are placed at diagnostic points over an SP’s chest and abdomen. When the stethoscope is placed over a tag, a specific sound file is fetched from an SD card and played over earbuds. The student doesn’t have to ask, “What am I hearing?” anymore – the actual sound of bruits or borborygmi are heard.

We can easily see expanding this system – RFID tags that trigger a faux ultrasound machine to display diagnostic images, or tiny OLED screens displaying tagged images into an otoscope. A good place to start expanding this idea might be this digital stethoscope recorder and analyzer.

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Digital stethoscope can record, playback, and analyzer heart sounds

It’s somewhat amazing how these rather inexpensive electronics can augment the functionality of a common stethoscope. This digital stethoscope is using audio processing to add the features. A standard chest piece feeds a condenser microphone which is fed through a pretty standard OpAmp circuit which supplies the ADC of an ATmega644. After being digitized, the heart sound can be recorded in ten second increments to a 1 Mb flash memory chip. The data can also be fed to MATLAB via a USB cable in real-time. There it is displayed as a waveform and the heart rate is calculated on the fly. Check  out the video after the break for a great demo of the system.

The picture above shows a set of ear buds used as output. But this is a standard headphone jack, so the heart sounds can be played on speakers which we think would come in handy for teaching purposes. There’s also the option to hook it to a computer input which could be the audio used for a Skype session if a doctor is not close at hand. There is lots of potential here at a fairly low cost and we love that!

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