Nearly a year ago, Zargis Medical popped up on our radar after they were approved as an iPhone app developer. At the time, we were excited because they had recently paired their analytic software with the Littmann Bluetooth stethoscope, allowing for cardiac sounds to be analyzed on a laptop.

Thinklabs soon after came out with an iPhone app that essentially did the same thing, suggesting that freeing this system from the laptop was something that innovators were moving towards.

So you can imagine our interest as the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) has just signed an agreement with Zargis Medical to deploy their telemedicine stethoscope system across OTN’s 1,000+ clinical sites.

This system basically comes in two parts – one that provides real-time analytics and the other that enables sharing of data between remotely located physicians.

When it comes to the analytic software, the Zargis system has a lot of potential to improve the diagnostic yield of a very simple, noninvasive exam. The real power here is in matching thousands, or even tens of thousands, auscultated waveforms with a diagnosis proven by echo or other more high-tech modalities. In doing so, these systems could potentially generate accurate predictions, complete with confidence intervals, about underlying disease from just the sounds heard on auscultation.

The Telesteth component of this project will allow sharing of cardiac sounds among physicians. Where this has the greatest potential is in allowing better screening of patients in areas with poor access to specialty service. Take the Still’s murmur – an extraordinarily common pediatric murmur that is totally benign and yet prompts frequent cardiology consultations and echos. The ability for pediatric cardiologists, who are often located only in larger cities or academic centers, to hear the heart sounds and even participate in the PCP visit via a teleconference could reduce time to diagnosis, patient anxiety, and costs.

The stethoscope is one of the oldest tools in the physicians arsenal. For those among us that really master the intricacies of auscultation, it can yield enormous amounts of information particularly when it comes to the cardiovascular system. Unfortunately, the time to build and maintain that talent is a luxury most non-cardiologist physicians don’t have. Hopefully, systems like this will bring the full potential of the time-honored tool to even more patients.