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The stethoscope you must have

Dr Raj Thakkar is impressed with the acoustic quality of an electronic stethoscope.

Practice-based commissioning and GPSIs have paved the way to ever-greater specialisation among GPs.

But in order to practise medicine to a high standard, all doctors, specialists or generalists, have to develop and maintain skills, be reflective and have access to reliable, high-quality medical equipment.

Easy to use
The stethoscope is no exception. What do GPs require from a stethoscope?

It has to look professional and be light and easy to use, but most importantly, it must offer high-quality acoustics. The Littmann 3000 electronic stethoscope fits the bill.

This is a stethoscope that amplifies physical signs using electronic gadgetry, rather than simple physics.

A stylish take on the standard format, it features a single diaphragm obliquely attached to an ergonomically designed metallic end-piece.

The tube and earpieces are attached in the usual way. But while these earpieces look like the conventional plugs, each supports a precision speaker.

Although the stethoscope requires a AAA battery, it is surprisingly lightweight.

The 3000 is incredibly comfortable to use, as I would expect from any Littmann.

The controls appear simple, with one four-way button on the top of the chest piece. But I must admit that to make it work, the button needs more pressure than is ideal.

Two sides of the button increase and decrease the volume, while the other two are used to select high or low frequency modes. The frequency controls are also used to switch the stethoscope on or, if held down, to switch it off.

An auto power down function helps to conserve the battery if you forget to switch off manually. Nevertheless, each battery provides an estimated 200 hours of clinical time, according to the comprehensive product manual.

Natural acoustic quality
Tones sent through the earpieces signal when the stethoscope is being switched on and off and whether high or low frequency mode has been selected.

In use, I found the Littmann 3000 pleasingly louder than my current Cardiology model. The acoustic quality of the Littmann 3000 makes it sound natural, rather than digital.

Correct positioning of the chest piece is vital to prevent unwanted sounds being picked up by the stethoscope's highly sensitive amplifier. Noise from the operator's hand, or any other slight movement, may be transmitted, although the earpieces are very good at cutting out unwanted sounds.

Manual stethoscopes allow the user to change frequencies effortlessly and without much thought, whereas the Littmann 3000 does require a conscious effort for this, but it is something that I am sure will quickly become second nature.

The stethoscope set comes with a selection of earpieces and an instruction manual, and the battery is pre-installed.

I have only one other minor criticism. A CD featuring heart sounds, or perhaps a demonstration DVD, would have been a nice touch. But the bottom line is, the Littmann 3000 electronic stethoscope looks good and is easy to use. The sound quality is impressive, at times too sensitive. While having to change frequencies using a button will take some getting used to, this is the best quality stethoscope that I have used.

- An independent review by Dr Raj Thakkar, a GP in Woodburn Green, Buckinghamshire

- Equipment provided by Williams Medical Supplies.

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