It’s a technical word that many people – even within the healthcare profession – may be unfamiliar with initially. But auscultation is a vital part of the patient assessment process which involves listening to the sounds coming from the patient’s respiratory system. It would be the first step in determining a chest infection for example, where a stethoscope is used to listen for any wheezing or rattling sounds emanating from the lungs or chest cavity. It also involves listening to the character of any sounds detected, as well as the intensity and vocal resonance.
Alongside inspection, palpation and percussion, auscultation should be considered an essential part of clinical examination, even with all the health and technological advancements of modern times. It’s been said that technologic advancement has given rise to an overreliance on laboratory testing with less emphasis on the importance of a ‘hands-on’ examination. This has unfortunately meant that the clinical relevance of auscultation has been reduced significantly in recent years. However, it still represents an inexpensive, non-invasive, highly effective method of diagnosing a range of respiratory conditions in both adults and children.
What methods are used in auscultation?
- Make sure the room is quiet and get your patient into a comfortable seated position. If this isn’t possible, roll the patient from one side to the other so you can examine their back.
- Rub the chest piece of your stethoscope in your hands to warm it up before placing it on your patient’s skin. Never perform auscultation through clothing.
- Ask the patient to open their mouth and take deep breaths in and out.
- Using the diaphragm of the stethoscope, start auscultation anteriorly at the apices, and move downwards until you can no longer hear any breathing sounds. Next, listen to the back, starting at the apices and moving downward. At least one complete respiratory cycle should be heard at each site.
- Always compare symmetrical points on each side.
- When listening to your patient’s breathing, listen to the quality and intensity of their breaths and consider if there are any unusual sounds present.
Mastering the art of auscultation and more with our professional CDP workshop
Designed specifically for nurses, medical students, OTs, physiotherapists and other front line health professionals, PDUK offers an excellent course worth 35 hours of CPD called the 5 Day Patient Assessment workshop. This intensive, hands-on course will act as a springboard for diagnostic proficiency and clinical decision making with a maximum student trainer ratio of 12 to 1. Hurry though, as the next course starts on the 18th November, although if that’s a little too soon it’s repeated on the 3rd February and 15th June 2020. All refreshments and course materials are provided so get signed up today to avoid disappointment.