A doctor is recognized by not just his expertise or relationship with patients but through the omnipresent Stethoscope either held in the hand or dangling over his shoulders.
As a child, I still remember how much enamored I was with this device. When I visited my family doctor for some ailment, I was delighted to see the man, dressed in white, with some kind of earphones tucked in his ears, the tube-like wire ending in a bell-like structure, capped by a plastic disc. He would put it on my chest and back asking me to heave heavily. This always had a placebo effect that provided the much-needed assurance that you are in fine hands. I would come back home relieved and often enact the same thing to get the satisfaction of becoming a doctor myself.
It all started when Rene Laennec, back in 1816, used rolled paper sheets – later developing it to a wooden tube – to hear the sounds of heart and bowel movements. He then made monaural – single earpiece – and finally graduated to Binaural stethoscope with two earpieces. In 1852, George Cammann made it more commercially viable which has been in use ever since. Several developments have gone in over a period of time but the basic design is still retained.
Till this day, it still captures the imagination of today’s kids. Even my 3-year-old daughter plays with the doctor set in which this instrument plays an important role. Such has been its effect that we also have jewelry in the shape of a stethoscope. It’s not just in real life but also in the movies and advertisements that anybody who carried the Stethoscope would automatically become a doctor no matter what his background. It is akin to what a “Chakra” is to “Vishnu”, “Vajra” is to “Indra” and even “Trishula” is to “Shiva”.
But, all this is going to change courtesy technology. A two-century-old instrument that has been saving people until now is going to die very soon. The stethoscope is turning digital and very soon even smartphone may do the same work. Like every other technology including cameras, videos, GPS, fitness tools this too is going to come within the grasp of a common man’s palm. It may not be too far when people may start treating themselves, with some knowledge, more easily without the intervention of a doctor. The usage of Hand-held ultrasound technology and remote consulting – using the applications like Skype, Watsapp, and emails – are also growing as per a recent survey.
All this only means that the end of days for this beloved instrument is near. It may not be too far when it’s only visible in museums.
Sources: TOI, Wikipedia