Scope for Improvement

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Your family practitioner may be plugged in to the fanciest ultrasound equipment available, but can he use a simple stethoscope? Maybe not, according to an article in Wednesday's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. In a study of 198 internal medicine residents and 255 family practice residents in their first, second and third years, researchers found that physicians could detect, on average, just 20 percent of the 12 most common cardiac problems by using their stethoscopes. And the situation is likely to get worse. Currently, fewer than one-third of all internal medicine programs nationwide offer any official instruction in using the stethoscope. Family practice and internal medicine certification boards long ago abandoned stethoscope proficiency as a requirement for recertification.

There is one positive note: Doctors who had learned to play a musical instrument were more proficient at detecting cardiac problems since their trained ear helped them pick up the sounds. So next time you see a doctor, ask him if he is tone-deaf. It could save a lot of trouble in the long run.