Public Release: 

Doctors in training improve skills via virtual patient

Temple University

At Temple University School of Medicine, Michael Barrett, M.D., (left) and cardiology fellow, Behnam Bozorgnia, M.D., operate the electronic stethoscope, which simulates patients' heart sounds.

An electronic stethoscope that doubles as a virtual patient dramatically improved the accuracy of medical residents in identifying heart sounds, according to a study presented today at the American College of Cardiology.

Research has revealed an alarmingly low 21 percent accuracy rate among medical residents using a stethoscope to discern abnormal heart sounds. To address this handicap, lead author Michael Barrett, M.D., clinical associate professor of medicine and cardiologist at Temple University School of Medicine and Hospital, used an electronic stethoscope that plays back recorded heart sounds with a group of residents and asked them to listen repeatedly to each one.

According to co-author Archana Saxena, M.D., a cardiology fellow at Temple, accuracy rates improved significantly, from 26 percent to 69 percent, among the residents who listened to each sound 500 times via electronic stethoscopes.

In previous studies, Barrett found that intensive repetition vastly increased stethoscope proficiency among medical students.

"This new technology allowed us to test the hypothesis that electronic stethoscopes can be used as patient simulators to provide the necessary repetition to improve proficiency in cardiac auscultation," he explained.

Because cardiac auscultation is a technical skill, Barrett believes that it is better learned through repetition. Traditional classroom teaching of auscultation has proven inadequate.


Click here for audio of a heart murmur.

Other researchers on the team were Amit Patel, M.D., Howard Kramer, M.D. and Alfred Bove, M.D., of Temple University School of Medicine and Hospital.

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