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'The stethoscope is dead'

Perhaps more than any other piece of medical equipment, the stethoscope serves as a visual symbol of the medical profession. But is the iconic device in its death throes?

Some doctors say the device for listening to hearts, lungs and more pieces and parts inside human bodies has outlived its purpose and is being buried by more accurate imaging technologies. Other physicians are hanging on to their stethoscopes, insisting that the devices are still useful in detecting and diagnosing disease.

There are West Virginia doctors on both sides of the ongoing debate among cardiologists and others. While the sides disagree on the usefulness of stethoscopes, they're agreed that many doctors simply are not very good with the instruments.

Nearly 20 years ago, researchers examined the accuracy of residents and medical students in interpreting the sounds they heard through their stethoscopes. The result, the Washington Post reports: both groups had "disturbingly low" identification rates for a dozen common, critical cardiac events.

So while there are doctors declaring the instrument dead, the reality is that many physicians still use the diagnostic devices to listen to the internal sounds of patients, albeit often poorly interpreting the aural information.

More recent research indicates that doctor stethoscopes tend to peak around their third year of medical school and may often be in decline after several years of medical practice. That's certainly not good news for patients, but it might well help explain why there are still so many errors in diagnosis.

West Virginia residents harmed by misdiagnosis can speak with attorneys experienced in holding negligent doctors and hospitals accountable.

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