60-Second Science

Docs ID Heart Murmurs Better After Training With mp3's

Doctors can fail to identify obvious heart murmurs because they've listened to normal and murmur heart sounds too little. But slapping the contrasting sounds onto mp3 players helps train docs quickly.

Hopefully, your heart sounds like this. (Normal heart beat sound.) But if you happen to have a heart murmur, it might sound more like this. (Abnormal heart beat sound.) Despite the obvious difference, a lot of doctors aren’t very good at identifying heart murmurs in patients. Studies have shown that they get it right only about 40 percent of the time. According to Temple University cardiologist Mike Barrett, that’s because most doctors don’t hear these sounds often enough to get them imprinted into their brains. So Barrett started posting mp3’s of different heart murmurs online, for his med students to download into their iPods. That way, they could listen to them over and over and over again. In fact, he recently asked a group of practicing docs to listen to the sounds of five common heart murmurs 400 times. Sure enough, after just one hour-and-a-half session, their batting average went up to 80 percent, a huge improvement. Barrett says demand for the recordings has been intense. Perhaps they’ll show up one day in the top ten downloads on iTunes. Just after 60-Second Science, of course.

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