From Stethoscope to Predictive Analytics

The sounds made by the heart and lungs provide important diagnostic information during an examination. Before the invention of the stethoscope, auscultation – the action of listening to sounds from the heart, lungs, or other organs – was performed by physicians by placing their ear directly on the patient.

In the early 1800’s, a French doctor, René Laënnec, felt it was inappropriate to rest his ear against the chest of the young female patient complaining of heart problems. Revered as an excellent student, the young doctor rolled a piece of paper into a tube and pressed it to her chest. To his surprised, he was able hear the sounds of her heart more clearly and distinctly than had he placed his ear to her chest.

In his preface to the classic treatise De l’Auscultation Médiate, published in August 1819, Dr. Laënnec wrote, “I happened to recollect a simple and well-known fact in acoustics, … the great distinctness with which we hear the scratch of a pin at one end of a piece of wood on applying our ear to the other. Immediately, on this suggestion, I rolled a quire of paper into a kind of cylinder and applied one end of it to the region of the heart and the other to my ear, and was not a little surprised and pleased to find that I could thereby perceive the action of the heart in a manner much more clear and distinct than I had ever been able to do by the immediate application of my ear.”

Fast forward almost 200 years. Patient monitoring has evolved to such a degree that the typical high-acuity patient is connected to multiple monitoring devices, generating innumerable data points per second. Add to this the lab results and physician’s notes and a treasure chest of information that holds valuable information about the patients’ health is created. Unfortunately, the quantity of the data has far outstripped the physician’s ability to process it.

Predictive analytics holds the key to unlocking this immense data. By analyzing high-volume and high-velocity data in real-time, predictive analytics can identify patterns in physiological data that predict a deterioration in the patient’s condition. Ultimately, predictive analytics enables physicians to intervene in a timely manner, significantly improving the clinical outcome and substantially reducing the cost of treatment.