Did You Know? THI’s Heart Sounds Laboratory

Sounds heard within the heart, blood vessels, and lungs can provide important diagnostic clues to the experienced ear. Recognizing those clicks, snaps, and murmurs in the heart, however, requires more than just a good stethoscope—extensive practice is essential. But teaching this basic bedside evaluation can be challenging.

Recognizing the importance of practice in the art of auscultation, Dr. Robert J. Hall, THI’s first Medical Director, enlisted the help of THI biomedical engineer Carlos C. Martin to develop the Heart Sounds Laboratory in 1973. THI was the perfect setting to record an extensive library of murmurs and abnormal heart sounds because of the huge numbers of patients from around the world who seek treatment from THI physicians. This innovative endeavor would provide access to almost any heart sound imaginable, bringing to life the idea of “teaching from actual patients.”

By 1980, the laboratory’s collection included more than 1400 examples. That same year, THI’s 11th Annual Cardiology Symposium focused on bedside and noninvasive patient evaluation. The recordings took center stage, as the audience was able to actively participate by using stethophones to listen to the recordings of subtle heart sounds. In 1982, THI continued sharing its rich audiovisual resources by holding its first annual auscultation symposium. Twenty years later, the 2002 annual auscultation symposium was held in memory of Carlos Martin, the talented engineer who brought this invaluable tool to life.

Heart sounds were originally recorded on reel-to-reel tapes. Over time, the laboratory evolved into a full audio and television studio and was eventually renamed the Biocommunications Research Laboratory as it took on a wider role recording operations and providing outreach materials. In 2002, the department was joined with the Photography and Computer Graphics Department, creating Visual Communication Services. With the advent of digital technology, teaching materials were made available in a range of electronic formats. Key heart sound recordings and lectures from Drs. Hall, Wilson, and Nihill are still available on CD at the library or online.

Photo: Dr. Hall monitors the recording of a patient’s heart sounds video and audio with the help of a cardiology fellow in the THI Heart Sounds Laboratory.

Image: November 1980 cover of the THI Today newsletter featuring the Heart Sounds Laboratory and the 11th Annual Cardiology Symposium focused on auscultation and bedside evaluation.