Jeff Reinke, editorial director

The new 3200 Model 3M/Littmann Electronic Stethoscope, which is compatible with Zargis Cardioscan software, was recently introduced. It costs $765 and has the potential to replace other testing procedures that run somewhere in the neighborhood of $9.4 billion annually.

At 190 years-young, the stethoscope is older than most items in a hospital, but the recent makeover it received might also make it more valuable. The sound-amplifying 3200 listens to a patient’s heartbeat and then transmits what it hears to Cardioscan software, which is designed to detect abnormalities. This means the less distinguishable swishing sounds can be properly diagnosed in identifying congenital heart defects, holes in the heart wall and constricted or leaky heart valves that interrupt blood flow.

So instead of having to schedule an expensive echocardiogram test, this stethoscope uses Bluetooth technology to transmit heart sounds to a PC, with the software rendering a near real-time graphical representation of the sounds. The software then analyzes the sound waves and highlights minute abnormalities that could represent harmful murmurs.

The doctor can play the sound back at half speed to diagnose a problem more confidently, save the file to the patient’s chart, and e-mail it all to a cardiologist to confirm the diagnosis. Early tests of the system suggest that it could eliminate more than eight million unnecessary echocardiograms and cardiologist visits a year, saving some $9.4 billion and, even better, catch more of the dangerous murmurs.

This upgrade to a trusted medical instrument shows that some of the answers to rising healthcare costs don’t need to be over-complicated by bureaucrats and political rhetoric. Rather, if more resources can be directed towards providing the right environment for innovation and coupling it with those in the marketplace who are truly focused on taking better care of the patient, the answers will materialize. Levying large tax penalties on device makes, such as has been proposed in recent legislation, works in direct opposition of this principle.

I’m not foolish enough to think that we need to leave everything to the private sector and let it fix itself where healthcare is involved, but at the end of the day technological advances in procedures and equipment is where I’d prefer to see more of my tax dollars in action. We can reduce costs and improve our country’s level of healthcare through the shorter recovery times, less invasive procedures and quicker diagnosis such developments can produce. The pot is then made that much bigger in expanding coverage benefits and improving the scope of care.

Video: The Bluetooth-Enabled Cardioscan Stethoscope