With better quality sound from MP3 players/recorders, some clinical sounds can be better heard and even recorded, stored on computers and fileshared, according to Neil Skjodt of the department of medicine at the University of Alberta and his audiologist colleague Bill Hodgetts.
By pressing a microphone directly to the chest, the researchers were able to record a whole range of respiratory sounds with different patterns.
"The quality, clarity and purity of the loud sounds were better than I have ever heard with a stethoscope," Skjodt said Monday in a statement issued by the European Respiratory Society's (ERS) annual congress in Stockholm.
"The MP3 files were later transferred to a computer and converted into frequency curves. Computer analysis of the stored sounds showed that each had a a distinct signature," the statement said.
"The computer -- like the human ear -- did, however, sometimes have difficulty in processing complex or quiet breathing sounds," it added.
Researchers decided to conduct the experiment after several studies showed that health care staff "generally had mediocre auditory faculties, especially when using stethoscopes."
One of the studies showed that medical students sometimes had to listen to certain clinical sounds up to 500 times before they could recognise them accurately.
Skjodt said that in addition to providing better quality sound, the use of MP3s also enabled doctors to reproduce or store the sounds heard during a medical consultation or even transmit them to a databank so other doctors could refer to them.
Stethoscopes date back almost 200 years. Even modern, digital stethoscopes are outperformed by MP3s, the researchers said.
According to the ERS, respiratory diseases are the main cause of death in the world. In Europe, respiratory diseases cost society more than 100 billion euros (140 billion dollars) a year.
A total of 15,000 clinical doctors, researchers, physiotherapists and medical and pharmaceutical industry workers from more than 100 countries are attending the congress in Stockholm, which concludes on Wednesday.