4 Types of Stethoscopes Healthcare Workers Use

Nurses and other specialists use several types of professional stethoscopes to monitor and diagnose patients’ conditions.

To narrow down your selection, you must consider your specific device needs in advice.

These needs depend on your daily routines, the types of patients you care for, and your work environment.

In most cases, nurses find a good balance of performance, design, and durability with a non-critical care stethoscope.

However, consider buying a cardiology stethoscope if you work in a specialized field or critical care.

For the sake of simplification, you can think of stethoscopes fitting into one of four categories:

4 Types of Stethoscopes:

  • Entry-level/limited assessment stethoscopes
  • General use/non-critical care stethoscopes
  • Cardiology stethoscopes
  • Electronic stethoscopes

It’s important to note that stethoscope performance is often on a spectrum.

As a result, not all devices provide the same level of acoustic quality.

The following section examines the different types of stethoscopes and their performance to make an informed buying decision based on your specific needs.

Entry-Level Stethoscopes

Entry-level stethoscopes are typically the least expensive stethoscopes you can buy.

These devices don’t require high-cost materials commonly found in mid to high-end stethoscopes.

As a result, buyers can save money when choosing an entry-level model.

However, unlike high-end models, entry-level stethoscopes use low-cost metals, composite resins, plastics, and rubber to keep costs down.

The lower cost provides specialists and facilities with minimal budgets with a reasonably priced device for limited physical assessments and blood pressure checks.

In conclusion, entry-level stethoscopes are helpful in low-risk situations for restricted physical evaluations.

General Use/Non-Critical Care Stethoscopes

Non-critical care settings often use general-use (non-critical care) stethoscopes.

They are one of the best stethoscopes for nurses in most healthcare professions. 

Non-critical care settings include medical offices, ambulatory clinics, urgent care centers, and OB/GYNs.

Non-critical care stethoscopes provide significantly better performance than entry-level devices.

They can observe a broader range of cardiovascular, lung, and bodily sounds.

Additionally, these devices can be a better long-term investment for those using their stethoscopes for many years.

The stethoscope uses premium components and offers better overall sound quality.

When it comes to excellent non-critical care stethoscopes, you can think of a stethoscope such as the Littmann Classic III, which is just a step down from cardiology stethoscopes.

These devices cost more due to their premium construction.

However, it’s worth the investment considering they provide many years of use and make hearing essential cardiovascular sounds much more manageable.

Cardiology Stethoscopes

One of the most common questions about cardiology stethoscopes is, “what’s the difference between a cardiology stethoscope and a general (non-critical care) stethoscope?”

Cardiology stethoscopes are considered high-end devices that provide better acoustic performance when compared to regular stethoscopes.

In addition, the stethoscopes enhanced sound quality results by using a more prominent precision-engineered chestpiece.

You can see a clear example of how much broader the cardiology IV’s chestpiece is (40% larger and 60% deeper) compared to the Littmann Classic III.

As a result, the chestpiece significantly improves the monitoring, capture, and transition of hard-to-heard sounds that non-cardiology stethoscopes struggle to pick up.

Additionally, cardiology stethoscopes use improved engineering, materials, design, and construction throughout the device to optimize frequency range and sound quality.

These stethoscopes are essential for healthcare providers in critical care settings where observing faint bodily sounds can mean the difference between recovery and significant health decline.

Electronic Stethoscopes

As the name implies, electronic stethoscopes use a microphone to capture and enhance sounds digitally for significantly improved performance.

As technology continues to evolve, the usefulness of digital stethoscopes also continues to grow.

Electronic stethoscopes provide several significant benefits when compared to more traditional stethoscopes.

For example, electronic stethoscopes can easily amplify hard-to-hear sounds and listen for a broader range of frequencies than traditional stethoscopes.

The amplified sound is excellent for nurses who are either hard of hearing or working with patients with specific medical conditions.

Even a cardiology stethoscope cannot pick up certain faint bodily sounds.

Electronic stethoscopes can be a game-changer for helping healthcare specialists diagnose and treat medical conditions that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to detect.

Electronic stethoscopes can also capture and record those sounds for future listening and display data on the screen for visual playback.

With that said, electronic stethoscopes are not without their flaws.

Electronic stethoscopes require power and may incur additional costs due to regular battery replacement or being inoperable when charging.

Secondly, electronic stethoscopes are often heavier and require additional practice to use the device properly.

And third, the price range of a high-quality electronic stethoscope can range in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

It makes these devices financially unsuitable for many nurses and professionals.

However, for those who work in specialized fields that want a truly capable stethoscope for work, nothing comes close in sound quality and amplification to a high-end electronic stethoscope.

Which Stethoscope Design is Best for Nurses

As mentioned previously, the best stethoscopes for nurses specialize in the nurse’s particular medical discipline.

If you work in a field that doesn’t require critical care, anesthesia, surgery, or cardiology, you can use a high-quality general-use stethoscope.

However, choose a device that offers the best sound quality if you provide more intensive care where your patient has a high-risk level.

It includes cardiology stethoscopes designed to provide the highest acoustic performance.

Unlike non-critical care stethoscopes, cardiology devices may use much larger chestpieces designed with precise engineering to maximize the device’s high/low-frequency range and acoustic performance.

It allows healthcare specialists to listen for bodily sounds that may be hard for other devices to pick up.

An entry-level stethoscope can be great for essential vital monitoring if you do limited assessments or blood pressure monitoring.

It is, however, likely to struggle with patient monitoring which requires better acoustic performance.

Lastly, the general rule is that cheap stethoscopes often have lower performance due to cost-saving, impacting the stethoscope’s durability, comfort, and acoustic performance.

However, this is not always the case.

If a stethoscope’s price seems too good to be true, it’s worth doing your homework before spending your money.

Your best bet is to purchase the best stethoscope within your budget.

It saves you time and money due to its more dependable performance and durability.

Moreover, you can reduce your overall risk by spending a little extra money now rather than buying replacements down the line.