Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Auscultating heart and breath sounds through patients’ gowns: who does this and does it matter?
  1. Alastair J Rankin1,
  2. Stephen H Rankin2,
  3. Andrew C Rankin3
  1. 1Department of Medicine, Western Infirmary, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2Department of Medicine, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Glasgow, UK
  3. 3School of Medicine, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr A J Rankin, Department of Medicine, Western Infirmary, Glasgow G11 6NT, UK; alastair.rankin{at}


Background Doctors are taught to auscultate with the stethoscope applied to the skin, but in practice may be seen applying the stethoscope to the gown.

Objectives To determine how often doctors auscultate heart and breath sounds through patients’ gowns, and to assess the impact of this approach on the quality of the sounds heard.

Methods A sample of doctors in the west of Scotland were sent an email in 2014 inviting them to answer an anonymous questionnaire about how they auscultated heart and breath sounds. Normal heart sounds from two subjects were recorded through skin, through skin and gown, and through skin, gown and dressing gown. These were played to doctors, unaware of the origin of each recording, who completed a questionnaire about the method and quality of the sounds they heard.

Results 206 of 445 (46%) doctors completed the questionnaire. 124 (60%) stated that they listened to patients’ heart sounds, and 156 (76%) to patients’ breath sounds, through patients’ gowns. Trainees were more likely to do this compared with consultants (OR 3.39, 95% CI 1.74 to 6.65). Doctors of all grades considered this practice affected the quality of the sounds heard. 32 doctors listened to the recorded heart sounds. 23 of the 64 (36%) skin and 23 of the 64 (36%) gown recordings were identified. The majority of doctors (74%) could not differentiate between skin or gown recordings, but could tell them apart from the double layer recordings (p=0.02). Trainees were more likely to hear artefactual added sounds (p=0.04).

Conclusions Many doctors listen to patients’ heart and breath sounds through hospital gowns, at least occasionally. In a short test, most doctors could not distinguish between sounds heard through a gown or skin. Further work is needed to determine the impact of this approach to auscultation on the identification of murmurs and added sounds.

  • GENERAL MEDICINE (see Internal Medicine)
View Full Text

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.