On Air
Open In Popup
MPR News

Happy 200th, stethoscope

Share story

Stethoscope, a tool used to listen to a heartbeat.
Amanda Snyder | MPR News 2013

Two hundred years ago this week, a French doctor published his findings about an a medical innovation that's still used widely today. I bet one was used the last time you were at the doctor. Rene Laennec presented his drawings of and experiences using the stethoscope.

“Rene Laennec needed to examine a patient, it was a woman who was quite heavy. He thought that she had some kind of heart disease, it was probably heart failure. And doing percussion, tapping on her, wasn’t yielding the results he wanted. And they would often put their ears to people’s chest and that didn’t work,” said Dr. Jon Hallberg, medical director of the University of Minnesota Physicians Mill City Clinic. “He recalled a playground event that he and other children had done, which is you put a plank to your ear and someone on the far end of it can scratch with a fingernail and that sound transmits through. So, he took a set of papers, rolled them up into a tube and put them up against this person’s chest and discovered what he was hearing was actually much better than what he heard with other patients.”

To hear more — including what Hallberg hears when he uses a stethoscope — click play on the audio player above.