A doctor's most important fashion accessory, the stethoscope, may be heading for the scrap heap after 200 years, it is claimed.
The development of new, more accurate and compact ultrasound devices could soon consign the Victorian stethoscope to medical history, two US heart experts predict.
Professor Jagat Narula and Dr Bret Nelson, both from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, point out that several manufacturers already make hand-held ultrasound machines "slightly larger than a deck of cards".
Evidence suggests that, compared with the stethoscope, the devices can assist in emergencies and improve diagnostic accuracy.
Even a top-of-the-range stethoscope costs only a fraction of the thousands of dollars needed to buy the cheapest ultrasound device.
But experts say the falling price of new technology and changes in medical training could eventually mean the stethoscope will be supplanted by pocket-sized ultrasound probes.
The listening tube for monitoring abnormal heart beats and wheezing lungs has been a common sight draped around the necks of doctors since its invention in 1816.
Writing in the journal 'Global Heart', of which Prof Narula is editor-in-chief, the authors conclude: "Certainly the stage is set for disruption; as LPs were replaced by cassettes, then CDs and MP3s, so too might the stethoscope yield to ultrasound."