The stethoscope — a nearly 200-year-old invention — is on its way out. Soon, the iconic device will be replaced by a new version, one that works with smartphones and monitors heartbeats in real time, allowing stethoscopes to evolve into the 21st century.

Now, if this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The Eko Core took your traditional stethoscope and upgraded it. Instead of relying on the hearing of a doctor to monitor the sounds of a patient’s body, the Eko Core listens and transmits the heartbeat and other information to the doctor's smartphone. The doctor can then save these body sounds for the patient’s next visit in order to have a more accurate idea of their condition, which improves diagnoses. Unlike the Eko Core, however, this new device, called HeartBuds, rethinks the stethoscope as a whole.

"[HeartBuds] not only detect sounds inside the body just as well — or better — than traditional stethoscopes, but they are more sanitary," said HeartBuds developer Dr. David Bello, department chief of cardiology at Orlando Health, in a press release. "And because they incorporate smartphone technology, we can now record, store, and share those sounds as well. This could change the way we approach patient exams in the future."

HeartBuds is a small, portable device that looks like the listening end of a stethoscope. Doctors don’t plug HeartBuds into their ears, but rather into their smartphones. Upon activating the app and placing the device on the patient’s chest, sounds can be played through the smartphone’s speaker while corresponding images appear on the screen showing the heartbeat. This allows doctors to control the volume, listen, and talk to their patients about the sounds in real time and record those sounds for later.

To prove effectiveness, the researchers compared HeartBuds to two FDA-approved class I and class II stethoscopes and a commonly used disposable model. After examining 50 patients, they found HeartBuds performed just as well as the more expensive class I and class II stethoscopes when it came to detecting heart murmurs and carotid bruits — sounds in the neck that signify severe blockage in the carotid artery. They also found the disposable model missed heart murmurs 43 percent of the time and carotid bruits 75 percent of the time.

"That's very disconcerting," said study author Dr. Valerie Danesh, the research and clinical grants manager at Orlando Health, in the release. "Many facilities have started using disposable models after several studies, particularly overseas, showed there can be a 30 to 40 percent potential risk for transmitting harmful bacteria through stethoscopes. These findings may cause some to reconsider that practice."

Heartbuds, though, has also proven its worth outside of the doctor’s office. Some athletes have used it to monitor their conditioning and performance — they save their body sounds for analysis later — and pregnant women have also used it to monitor the sounds of their children. They could then send these sounds off to friends and family anywhere around the world.

Though we have been tolling the bell for the stethoscope’s death for years, it seems like the final nail in the coffin will come pretty soon.

Source: Bello D, Danesh V, et al. The American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions, Orlando, Florida. 2015.