What is an EMT Stethoscope?

When considering an EMT stethoscope for your personal use there are many brands and types from to choose. They come in three basic styles:

  • Single-Head & Single tube
  • Dual-head & Dual tube (Sprague-Rapport type)
  • Dual-Head & Single tube
  • Multfunction head

Each type has a different price and has different uses. From my point of view, an EMT should have their own EMT stethoscope and not rely on a company or squad issued "Scope". There are several reasons for this, the primary one is that you get used to your own device. It fits your ears better after a short while and you will hear better. Also, you don't have to worry about somebody else's ear wax buildup when the scope is yours.


single head stethoscope

Single-head-Single-Tube are usually the cheapest stethoscopes available. They are good for a backup when you forget yours at a patient's house (I've done that all too frequently). I have several, one in jump kit, one in my car, one stashed in the rig (where my partner can't find it). I don't get too upset when I lose one of these types since they are so cheap.

I like this as a new EMT stethoscope since newbies have not yet developed their own personal habits to keep track of things (some say after 25 years I need to develop new ones - the "Boss" will kill me if I lose another one). Some new EMTs will find out that this is not the career they thought and will drop out. Buying a scope like this wont set them back a pretty penny.

The main disadvantage of this type of scope is that the dynamic frequency is rather small. This is complicated talk to say that it's hard to hear with this type of scope.


Sprage-Rapport Stethoscope

Dual-Head-Dual-Tube stethoscopes (also known as Sprague-Rapport types) are perhaps the most common and cost effective type of stethoscope used in emergency medical services. This type of scope is also referred to as a dual bell scope. We use this type of stethoscope a lot and I always wondered who Sprague and Rapport were. Click here for a brief history of stethoscopes (warning, opens a new window) A brief history of Stehoscopes Sprague-Rapport type stethoscopes have a great advantage over single head scopes in that they have much greater frequency response. You can hear better with this type of scope. The small bell is used for high frequency sound (useful for pediatric patients) and the large bell is used for low frequency sounds such a lung sounds. The two tubes give better stereo sound.

This type of scope is also relatively inexpensive. I bought my last one for under $20 (US) in 2007. I also don't get too upset when I lose them or my partner "Borrows" them. Most of these scopes come with a good set of replacement parts and many third-party companies make add-ons such as name tags and tape holders.

Two disadvantages of the Sprague-Rapport EMT Stethoscope is that the two tubes are connected by a small metal port that is screwed into the bell. This port becomes loose with time and if not tightened you can hear extraneous sounds. Another disadvantage is that many older and cheaper scopes are made of latex. You can't use these latex scopes on patients (or yourself)with latex allergies.


Dual Head Stethoscope

Dual-head single tube stethoscopes are general superior in hearing capabilities than the previous two types of scopes. The quality of manufacture is also generally higher. With the superior performance comes a superior price. These scopes are generally over $50 (US).

I used one of these for many years and guarded it jealousy. I felt that it was the best scope I ever used. It was a Littman Classic II. During a call, which became very violent, I dropped my kit and my scope to exit the scene. This became a crime scene and the scope was lost forever.



Advanced Stethoscopes

Multifunction head scopes are usually at the top of the price range. Some EMTs consider them a status symbol. I know some doctors who had them gold plated. They do offer superior sound performance. You can get the high frequency sounds by lightly applying the device and the low frequency sounds by pressing harder.

The main disadvantage for an EMT (especially a new EMT) is the price. This EMT Stethoscope is usually well over $100 (US). A girl friend at the time bought me a Littman Cardiac Master. It was over $150. It was bought to replace my old Littman which I lost. This did not last long unfortunately. I managed to slam the bell in the door of the ambulance when coming back from a run to the ER. It took me a long while to own up to what happened.


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