The era of classic stethoscopes might soon come to an end, opening the way for digital substitutes — like the one scientists created and linked to a computer program, enabling it to recognize and analyze lung sounds necessary to diagnose and investigate diseases such as cystic fibrosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The computer program, called Respiratory Sounds Visualizer, and the new digital stethoscope with high sensitivity for lung sounds were developed by three physician researchers at Hiroshima University and Fukushima Medical University in collaboration with an industrial partner, the Pioneer Corporation. The project was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, under the title, “Innovation in Analysis of Respiratory Sounds.”
Recorded lung sounds of 878 patients were analyzed and classified by respiratory specialists, and those diagnoses were then transformed by the researchers into templates to create mathematical formulas that could evaluate the sounds’ length, frequency, and intensity. The resulting computer program was able to identify patterns that supported the diagnoses.
The computer program recognizes lung sounds and maps them on a five-sided chart. Each side, or axis, represents one type of a lung sound. Doctors and patients can easily understand the results by looking for the axis with the greatest length of red, indicating a diagnosis.
Medical professionals listening to heart and lung sounds on a classic stethoscope have to filter the background noise to recognize abnormalities, work that’s particularly challenged in a noisy emergency room or in a field hospital. The digital stethoscope can also be easily used by less experienced resident medical doctors to help develop their experience and knowledge in respiratory practice, according to a press release.
Results from the computer program can also be stored electronically for later use, and may eventually allow patients with chronic diseases like cystic fibrosis to keep a record of their lung function.
Researchers are planning to make the Respiratory Sounds Visualizer publicly available soon. Dr. Shinichiro Ohshimo, from the Department of Emergency and Critical Care Medicine at Hiroshima University Hospital and one of the three physicians involved in the project, said, “We plan to use the electronic stethoscope and Respiratory Sounds Visualizer with our own patients after further improving [the mathematical calculations]. We will also release the computer program as a downloadable application to the public in the near future.”