styrofoam stetoscope

Styrofoam Cup Outperforms Crappy Disposable Stethoscope

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Given the increased proliferation of multidrug resistant (MDR) microorganisms, it is considered standard of care to use patient-dedicated, disposable, or “crappy” stethoscopes to prevent transmission from patients in contact isolation to other nearby patients or workstations.  Though there are some studies comparing stethoscopes of different quality, none have dared ask the simple question: can a stupid, white Styrofoam cup outperform these ridiculously crappy disposable stethoscopes?  I hypothesize, OMG yes, without a freaking doubt.


styrofoam stetoscopeThis highly biased, poorly thought-out study used a simulation center at a local medical school, healthcare professionals of my choosing who knew what my goal endpoint would be, a really ugly and fragile yellow disposable stethoscope (pseudostethoscope), and a used white Styrofoam cup from the nearly coffee area.  My friends and colleagues listened to four basic sounds (screaming, crying, cursing, and explosions) using the two items, and I tested their proficiency using a protocol I made up as we went along.  The study was sufficiently powered to achieve something.


Five healthcare providers participated in the study: one attending, one nurse, one intern, one secretary, and one janitor.  The enrollment period for patients lasted no time whatsoever since we were using a simulation center.  As expected, the stained white Styrofoam cup outperformed the sad yellow children’s toy in nearly every category.

Whereas healthcare providers were able to identify screaming, crying, cursing, and bone-jarring explosions with tremendous clarity 100% of the time with the used white Styrofoam cup, those same healthcare providers struggled with the yellow piece of crap we somehow call a stethoscope.  Screaming and crying were often mistaken for dead silence while cursing was often missed completely since participants were too busy re-assembling the stupid darned thing.  The stained, coffee-smelling Styrofoam cup also proved to be of a sturdier design, lasting longer than the silly jaundiced device in such conditions as a gentle breeze or someone coughing downstairs.  Not surprisingly, the attending physician performed the best in auscultatory findings.  Everyone else outperformed the intern.


This study proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that patients in contact isolation might suffer in two different ways while in the hospital: one, from multidrug resistant disease and two, from providers using inadequate tools to identify loud blatant noises.  Patient-dedicated stethoscopes are faulty in their design (they fall apart with exposure to air) and functionality (they diminish sound rather than amplify it).  All healthcare providers and patients would benefit if cost-saving useless pieces of plastic were replaced with better auscultatory devices such as Styrofoam cups, cupped hands, or two cans on opposite ends of a long piece of string.  Finally, we can all improve our physical exam skills but wow, we really need to help out our poor, poor interns with their exam findings.


I have no conflicts of interest. I just really hate those crappy disposable stethoscopes with a passion.  Can I get a hell yeah?!

Keywords: crap, pieces of crap, garbage, crying, Styrofoam, explosions

  • Dr. 99

    First there was Dr. 01, the first robot physician, created to withstand toxic levels of burnout in an increasingly mechanistic and impossibly demanding healthcare field. Dr. 99 builds upon the advances of its ninety-eight predecessors by phasing out all human emotion, innovation, and creativity completely, and focusing solely on pre-programmed protocols and volume-based productivity. In its spare time, Dr. 99 enjoys writing for Gomerblog and listening to Taylor Swift.

  • Show Comments

  • Avatar
    Megan Przybysz

    Maybe we just need to chart yes or no on breath sounds, since this is all you can really hear

  • Avatar
    Megan Przybysz

    This one is pretty good :-)

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    Sonya Addison

    I don’t know. The one I had as a kid seemed to work a whole lot better than the ones we have in our isolation rooms.

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    Katherine Adelicia Hedian

    I never use the disposable because I can’t hear jack squat. I just disinfect my good stethoscope.

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    Kelley Hughes Reep

    I love the way everyone pretends to hear through plastic stethoscope

  • Avatar
    Anita Niven

    Hell yeah.

  • Avatar
    Ryan Rivera

    When I gown up, some times I wonder if I should even bother.

  • Avatar
    Saupar Nika

    Absolutely true.

  • Avatar
    Courtney Stine

    Everyone in isolation has diminished breath sounds.

  • Avatar
    Robin Fahringer Mitchell Machajewski


  • Avatar
    Sara Mechling Shafer

    Tara Trbovich Rellick

  • Avatar
    Terina Calcagno

    Hell yeah! Honestly, it would not surprise me if there was truth to this.

  • Avatar
    Catherine Sikorski

    And after you strip the room, it needs cleaned for repeated use.

  • Avatar
    Joanie Sapienza

    Baaaaahahahahhaha! So true!

  • Avatar
    Jon Longoria

    I like to call them Fisher Price stethoscopes.

  • Avatar
    Jamie Kirby Lynch

    They’d probably work better! Lol

  • Avatar
    Kelly Summers Koch

    Lol Jamie Kirby Lynch

  • Avatar
    Maria Hall Bisceglia

    Michael Bisceglia lol!!

  • Avatar
    Amy Blackmon

    Crystal Whelchel

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