Stethoscope skills have proven alarmingly low among doctors in training, a handicap that often continues into patient practice. Long bothered by this lack of proficiency, lead author Dr Michael Barrett, clinical associate professor of medicine and cardiologist at Temple University School of Medicine, hypothesized that cardiac auscultation is more of a technical skill and thus could be mastered through intensive repetition.
Based on his previous research, which found that repetition vastly improved students’ accuracy, Dr Barrett created and tested a virtual classroom. Through the website, students downloaded various heart sounds, such as murmurs, and listened to each one 500 times. Examinations, grading and feedback also took place online.
According to the report, before attending the virtual classroom, the group of 235 third year medical students averaged a 32% accuracy rate in identifying different heart sounds. Afterward, rates surged to 81% similar to cardiologists’ skills.
Heart sounds offer vital clues to a patient’s health and allow us to decide if a costly echocardiogram or stress test is needed. Plus, internists are now tested on this skill for board re-certification. Similar requirements for residents and other specialists are sure to follow, said Dr Barrett, who plans to extend his virtual classroom to students and medical professionals worldwide.