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Diorama showing René Laennec examining a patient at the Necker Hospital, England, made c. 1945-1960

Set in the Necker Hospital in Paris, France, in 1816, this diorama shows René Laennec (1781-1826) examining a patient. He is listening to the patient’s chest with his new invention, the monaural stethoscope. Before the stethoscope, the physician had to place his ear to the patient’s chest or body to hear sound. But physical contact between patients and physicians (who were mostly male) was minimal and considered inappropriate when consulting female patients. Laennec found that using a hollow tube amplified the sounds made by the body and put some distance between him and his patient. Listening to the chest can help physicians diagnose illness such as bronchitis and tuberculosis. Almost two hundred years later, the stethoscope is still a valuable tool used by physicians. Today, however, the stethoscope typically has two earpieces.

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Related Themes and Topics


Glossary: tuberculosis

An infectious disease that is caused by a bacterium first identified by Robert Koch in 1882. The disease usually affects the lungs first, and is accompanied by a chronic cough.

Glossary: bronchitis

Inflammation of one or more bronchi (one of the larger air passages in the lungs), usually a result of infection. It is characterized by intense coughing.

Glossary: monaural stethoscope

An instrument used to listen to sounds produced by the human body.

Glossary: diorama

A model with three-dimensional objects, often sculpture, with a realistic painted background.