The sound of science
The Norman Rockwell-like image of the friendly doctor using a simple stethoscope to monitor one's lungs might be altered in coming years if a Boston company is successful with its new product, which links the time-honored device with a handheld PC.
Stethographics Inc. recently launched its Handheld STG, a handheld system for recording, displaying and analyzing chest and heart sounds.
The unit is the first that the Food and Drug Administration has approved, and the company says it could be useful as an added tool for physicians monitoring asthma, pneumonia or heart irregularities.
"Our system records heart and lung sounds on the PocketPC," said William Kania, chief executive of Stethographics. "Then it replays them, displays the sound waveforms and automatically analyzes the sounds of key features (wheezes, crackles)."
Stethographics was founded in 1998 by Dr. Raymond Murphy, a veteran physician who served on the faculty of Harvard's School of Public Health for more than 25 years. He has taught at Tufts, been on staff at area hospitals and is a co-founder of the International Lung Sounds Association. He holds several patents related to this technology.
The company has six full-time employees and about six technical associates.
Stethographics was started with about $600,000 in angel funding. In addition, it has received a $100,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.
This month the company began selling its Handheld STG. The unit retails for about $950 and was designed to provide physicians and nurses with a device that not only interprets sounds but records them for later use.
An advanced system that would cost about $10,000 is also being developed.
Although physicians and hospitals would be the prime users, company officials hope that one day it can be used by medical personnel in nursing homes and health-care centers.
And the company wants to develop a regimen in which parents of asthmatic children could monitor their offspring.
Thus one of the ancillary products the company offers is a multimedia course called "Learning Lung Sounds."
For now, the key product is the Handheld STG. The value the company is adding is its software.
The device is used in conjunction with a stethoscope. It runs on PocketPCs, such as HP iPAQ and Verizon Thera.
One notable difference between the traditional "old school" checkup and the Stethographic approach is that with the handheld device the physician can record the sounds and analyze them later.
Company officials say the unit provides at least two enhancements to the traditional mode.
"If you record the sounds, you can get a second opinion," said Kania, who has been with the firm for about a year. He had been chief executive of Papyrus Development Corp., among other positions in the local technology industry.
"The other thing is that for patients in remote areas, it can save a trip to a specialist in a city. If a rural doctor recorded the sounds, (he or she) could e-mail it to a specialist. That could save the patient a lengthy trip."
The company has had clinical trials with teams at Faulkner Hospital, St. Elizabeth Medical Center, the University of Vermont Hospital, and the Fazakerley Hospital in Liverpool, England.
It is entering into agreements with resellers, but last week several dozen medical professionals who had heard of the units had purchased them from the company's Web site at www.stethographics.com.
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