Your doctor may soon check your heart with a smartphone

The stethoscope, invented 200 years ago because a French doctor was too embarrassed to put his ear directly against a woman's chest, is finally getting a digital upgrade. A device called the Eko Core, which attaches to a regular stethoscope, has just been approved for medical use by the US FDA. It amplifies and records the sound signals transmitted by the ubiquitous medical devices, then sends the sound waves wirelessly to an iPhone app. From there, doctors can record the waveform and either listen to it later or compare it to a future visit to test the effects of a treatment. It will also be handy as a teaching too for medical students.

The Eko team has much bigger plans for the Core than that, too. It's started clinical trials for an algorithm that would compare a patient's heartbeat to pre-recorded ones and classify their rhythm as normal or abnormal. The doctor would get the final word, of course, but such an app could aid in the diagnosis. Lead UC San Francisco researcher Dr. John Chorba told the NYT that "the question is whether the software can identify pathological heart sounds... as the device gets used, you should get more data and the accuracy should improve."

The Eko Core is still useful without the algorithm, however, especially for family physicians who may lack the experience of heart specialists. The Mayo Clinic's cardiovascular head Dr. Charanjit Rihal said "this is probably one of the most important innovations in the plain old stethoscope in recent years." It's now on sale in the US for $199, or available with a stethoscope for $299.