The Stethoscope: Historical Considerations

  • Robert Lethbridge
  • Mark L. Everard


It is now more than 200 hundred years since René Laennec invented the stethoscope [1–6], a device that became the unofficial badge of office for doctors for the best part of two centuries. Hailed as one of the great additions to the physician’s non-invasive diagnostic armamentarium, there is no doubt that it has had a huge impact on clinical practice for much of this time. Laennec’s classic textbook, A Treatise on Mediate Auscultation and Diseases of the Lungs and Heart first published 1819 [1], provided entirely novel and profound insights into both pulmonary and cardiac disease. In this he describes the events that lead to the invention of the stethoscope just 3 years earlier and his insights into the significance of the clinical findings he was able to elicit both with ‘mediate auscultation’ via the stethoscope and using the recently described technique of percussion, which he helped popularise. He was also able to use his skills in the field of morbid anatomy to inform his interpretation of the clinical signs he elicited when examining his many patients. Thus he helped play a central role in developing a rational scientific foundation for examination of the chest that continues to underpin routine clinical practice to this day.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Paediatrics and Child Health, Princess Margaret Hospital for ChildrenUniversity of Western AustraliaSubiacoAustralia
  2. 2.Division of Child Health, University of Western AustraliaPerth Children’s HospitalPerthAustralia

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