Recorded heartbeats help students learn

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: April 17th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Medical school is known for challenging students’ minds. But it challenges their ears, too.

Consider the stethoscope, an instrument that helps doctors detect abnormal heartbeats.

Med students don’t learn to use stethoscopes automatically… first, they have to recognize subtle variations in heart rhythm that can indicate trouble.

Developing an expert ear is mostly a matter of practice. Unfortunately, med schools tend to rely on verbal descriptions to help students recognize cardiac calamity, and spend little time exposing them to actual heart sounds.

Some experts have begun to raise concerns. One study showed medical students correctly identified abnormal heartbeats only twenty percent of the time.

But there’s good news. In a recent issue of the American Journal of Medicine, a Temple University cardiologist reported that digital technology can help solve the problem.

He created an hourlong compact disc that featured six abnormal heart rhythms, each one presented in brief segments that featured seventy repetitions, plus spoken commentary.

Third-year medical students who listened to the entire program on a C-D player or I-pod [AYE-podd] two or three times dramatically improved their diagnostic skills.

Before hearing the material they correctly identified the six heart rhythms about forty percent of the time. Afterward, they averaged almost ninety percent. Control groups showed no improvement.

So while the C-D isn’t likely to find its way to the “American Bandstand” play list, perhaps one day, medical students nationwide will rave, “it’s got a great beat, and I can diagnose to it.”