Dr. Martin's notes

Thursday March 2, 2017

How to Use a Stethoscope

Stethoscopes are most commonly used to listen to heart, lung and bowel sounds. They are not difficult to use, but knowing the meaning of what you hear takes much skill and practice.

1. Clean off the earpieces before placing the stethoscope into your ears, especially if others share it or you seldom use it. In the hospital, earpieces are wiped with alcohol prep swabs.

2. Hold the chest piece between your palms to warm it before placing it on a person's chest. Thirty seconds is usually long enough to remove the chill.

3. Place the stethoscope into your ears.

4. Hold the chest piece in your hand. With the other hand, tap a finger against the chest piece and listen. Many stethoscopes have reversible heads, which can be incompletely swiveled and block sound.

5. Grip the chest piece between your middle and index fingers to provide firm contact with the skin.

6. To minimize extraneous noises, avoid touching or rubbing the tubing or chest piece against clothing, bedcovers or hair.

7. Place the chest piece onto the part of the body you want to listen to. For the heart, this is a few inches above the left nipple. You should hear a steady "lub dub." This is known as the apical pulse.

Store your stethoscope so that the tubing isn't kinked when you put it away. In hospitals, when stethoscopes are not being used, they're generally hung by their earpieces so that the tubing can dangle freely.