Researchers from Queen Mary University of London are helping create technology for a digital stethoscope.
The ‘DigiScope’ is being developed as part of a £120,000 initiative in Portugal. The idea is that it can be used like a traditional stethoscope; but with sound turned into images over a wireless connection.
Physicians use the DigiScope to listen to the heartbeat. Wireless technology transmits the four separate sounds made by the heartbeat back to the physician’s laptop or computer.
Mark Plumbley, professor of machine learning and signal processing at Queen Mary University, was approached to help with the next stage of the research.
His technology synchronises the four sounds to appear in an image as if they were all transmitted simultaneously.
Doctors are then able to compare visual graphs produced with ‘normal’ readings while the patient is there, or save the graphs and study them later.
With traditional stethoscopes, doctors need to rely on their own expertise and listening skills to pick up on abnormalities.
However, Professor Plumbley told eHealth Insider certain heart abnormalities may only appear obvious to a cardiac specialist.
He said the DigiScope would increase the likelihood of abnormalities being picked up earlier.
“Our work here is making a vital contribution to an invention that will help GPs identify heart problems before they become serious – even when patients come to surgery about a totally unrelated health matter.”
He said the DigiScope could be used by frontline staff when a cardiac specialist is not immediately available, to help train doctors, or by physicians in a remote setting.
“Perhaps in remote hospitals where there might not be a cardiac specialist available, they could send the scans off to another hospital where there is a cardiac specialist.”
“The development will not remove the need for specialist cardiac units, it will simply make it easier to identify potential heart problems at an earlier stage.”
Doctors in Brazil are currently testing the hardware in hospitals to see if it can easily replace the traditional stethoscope, while Professor Plumbley is still fine-tuning his technology.
He is simultaneously carrying out a five-year study funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council on ‘machine listening’.
The aim of the £1.2m study is to establish machine listening as a key enabling technology, leading to advances in industries such as health.
Professor Plumbley is also in the early stage of research relating to how similar audio technology can be used to analyse the sounds of abnormalities within the gut.
© 2011 EHealth Media.
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