"I'm just going to listen to your heart" many of us have heard their doctors say that in clinics and hospitals all over the world. But possession of a stethoscope does not an expert make. As more and more high tech machines are used to investigate the heart, doctors are losing the skill of how to listen to the heart (auscultation) and interpret what they hear. To see what today's doctors know, researchers tested 314 young doctors from the US, Canada and Great Britain by playing them tapes of 12 prerecorded cardiac events. The participants were then asked to fill in a multiple choice questionnaire about the heart sounds. On average, only about 20 per cent of the doctors in this survey could correctly interpret what they were hearing.
Ascultatory skills are in decline, say the authors, in part because such techniques are no longer being taught in medical schools, but also because of an increasing reliance in high tech methods of assessment (Am J Med, 2001; 110: 210-6).