• Jill Ladwig

Auscultation in the Time of Covid-19

“My Thinklabs One stethoscope has been a lifesaver during the pandemic," says Shanon Peter, of the West Los Angeles VA Hospital and UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

"I’ve been able to properly auscultate my COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients alike, with careful sterilization in between patients and very little risk of transmission to me and my family, compared with a traditional stethoscope, which is much harder to properly sterilize."

While many of his colleagues have given up auscultation during the pandemic, Peter says the Thinklabs One gives him the ability to continue that part of care with patients in the ER and ICU.

"If someone is sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, especially with COVID-19, it’s important to be able to detect day-to-day changes, especially for patients whose status is in flux."

Peter says auscultation can be an early harbinger of a patient's worsening condition and a warning for an increase in care. He notes that the VA has many patients who may not be critical, but may be homeless and have other comorbidities.

"A patient like that may not have a cardiac monitor, and it’s difficult to confirm that they have an irregular heart rate unless you listen. Across the country and around the globe, we are listening to these patients less because of fear of contamination," he says.

This has given Peter first-hand experience of a problem that has been widely reported: the larger impact of the pandemic on poorer populations. Thinklabs' Founder and CEO Clive Smith has given much thought to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19.

"The pandemic has amplified and accentuated almost every social and economic issue that existed pre-pandemic," Smith concludes. "The uneven impact of disease between rich and poor has been exacerbated. Income disparities have increased. Educated parents are better able to give their children educational advantages over those with less education. The list is endless."

As hospitals from Wuhan to Milan to New York filled with patients, healthcare workers became infected with COVID-19. The shortage of PPE left doctors and nurses rationing supplies. In response, Thinklabs created Safe Distance Auscultation which enabled a single clinician in PPE to apply a protected stethoscope to the patient, while the physician could listen at a distance--whether outside an ER or ICU room, or 25 feet from a vehicle in a drive-through screening and testing site.

"We realized that our business had expanded from detecting disease in patients to protecting the lives of doctors and nurses," Smith explains. "We had to ramp up production by hundreds of percent to make sure we could get doctors what they needed in time to treat the increased patient load, especially in places like Europe and New York, which experienced early surges."

While Peter agrees that fear of contamination is certainly valid, it means that, unless there’s a critical change in status, doctors are doing just a visual examination on these patients. Thankfully, one patient in this category recently got his attention.

"Listening to him one day (with the Thinklabs One), I found an irregular heartbeat. I looked at the record one day and thought it sounded like Afib. There was no history, he wasn’t going out of control but the rhythm was off. So I got an EKG, and he had a new Afib. We just happened to catch it and we wouldn’t have, if we hadn't been listening. It totally changed the course of care.

"I'm very grateful for my Thinklabs device!"

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