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3D-Printed Stethoscope Costs $5, Outperforms $200 Competitors

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Technology helps us all—well, all except those selling overpriced medical equipment. J.M. Porup reports in Motherboard:

Tarek Loubani, an emergency room doctor in Gaza, wants to apply the principles of open source software development to out-of-patent medical devices. His first success: A 3D-printed stethoscope head that costs 30 cents to make and, according to his tests, has better sound quality than the industry standard.

Loubani is the head of the Glia project, whose team of hackers and surgeons designed and field-tested the stethoscope. Audio-frequency response curve tests showed the device not only exceeds international standards, but offers superior sound quality compared to the industry-leading Littmann Cardiology 3.

The Littmann retails for $150-200. The Glia stethoscope, including the 3D printed head, tubing and ear piece, will cost around $5 to produce.

Loubani founded the Glia project after the 2012 Israeli invasion of Gaza. “I had to hold my ear to the chests of victims because there were no good stethoscopes, and that was a tragedy, a travesty, and unacceptable,” Loubani told attendees during a presentation at the Chaos Communications Camp in Zehdenick, Germany.

The device was tested in a process the group dubbed the “Hello Kitty” protocol. During the test, which measures how much sound is transmitted at each frequency, the stethoscope is pressed against a balloon filled with water before sound is transmitted through the balloon. The abundance of cat-branded balloons available in Gaza at the time led to that nickname. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

. . . Loubani foresees a future in which lifesaving medical devices, like dialysis machines and electrocardiograms, can be 3D printed around the world for a fraction of their former cost. Inspired by the open source software movement, he keeps all his code on GitHub and encourages doctors and hardware hackers to contribute to the project in a collaborative way. . .

The Glia team is focused on developing the three most ubiquitous and expensive medical devices—the stethoscope, a pulse oximeter that monitors blood oxygen levels, and an electrocardiogram for cardiac patients. The latter two, Loubani explains, will use “PCBs [printed circuit boards] designed to be easy for people to make in low-resource settings with simple methods like toner transfer. The housing is 3D printed.” . . .

Loubani was inspired to launch the project after testing his nephew’s toy stethoscope, and was startled to find such good sound quality.

Stethoscope prices remain high despite the expiration of fifty-year-old patents, and so he brought together a group of hardware hackers to work on the Glia model.

“I can understand why these companies charge so much,” he wrote. “[They] have no reason to undermine their profits. Why would 3M develop a stethoscope that’s as good as their $200 model but a fraction of the cost? That’s where doctors, hackers and tinkerers from all over the world take over to create these devices in a way that’s affordable and accessible.” . . .

Motherboard has another article, by Seung Lee, about how medical companies are developed stethoscope replacements with enhanced capabilities (recording the sounds, for example) and sell at much higher prices. Well worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 August 2015 at 3:16 pm

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