Although it’s taken for granted here in Canada, the modern stethoscope is unavailable to health care professionals in certain parts of the world because of its prohibitive cost.

The standard stethoscope can often cost several hundred dollars, which prevents physicians working in low-income communities or war zones from using them.

That is, until now.

A team of researchers in London, Ont. say they have created an open-source and clinically validated template to 3D-print plastic stethoscopes in less than three hours and for less than $3. 

And the best part? The stethoscope, called the Glia model, has the same acoustic quality as a premium brand device, according to a study detailing the findings published in the journal PLOS One.

The researchers contend that it’s the first time an open-source medical device has been clinically validated and is also widely available.

Dr. Tarek Loubani, an associate professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry and an emergency room physician at the London Health Sciences Centre, said he and his fellow researchers designed the stethoscope using free open-source software in order to keep down costs and to allow others to easily obtain the information in order to replicate it.

“Our product from this research is not the stethoscope, it is how to make the stethoscope and how to make sure that stethoscope is the best quality imaginable,” Loubani explained in a promotional video.

To achieve this, Loubani and his team used a 3D printer and common, low-cost ABS plastic to create a lightweight, high-quality stethoscope.

“These [ear pieces] are from a kind of plastic that can be easily recycled and is available anywhere. It’s the same kind of plastic that you would use in Lego, so it really is everywhere,” he said.

The device also consists of a plastic tube found in Coca-Cola machines, which Loubani said are all also found everywhere, and a circular piece of plastic from a common Duo-Tang folder that serves as the stethoscope’s chest piece or diaphragm.

“We really want everybody to be able to access these devices,” he said. “I’m not interested in getting rich or selling these devices to anybody, nor do I think this is the way to do it, instead what I want, is for every patient to be able to receive the same care that my patients in Canada can receive.”

Dr. Gabriella Coleman, a scholar on technology and open source software, praised the template for its accessibility and contribution to medical device research.

“This research gives a guide for others to create more open access devices that can reduce costs and ultimately save lives,” she said in a press release.

Loubani spent time working as an ER physician in Gaza during wartime when certain medical supplies weren’t always available. He said that doctors in Canada often rely on ultrasound, CT scan or other diagnostic technologies to treat patients, but in places without access to this equipment, stethoscopes become even more important.

“In London, if someone gets shot, I can use an ultrasound to look inside and see if there is a life-threatening air pocket called a pneumothorax,” he explained. “In Gaza, ultrasounds are not available in emergency departments, or are dilapidated, so the stethoscope becomes an inexpensive tool that allows us to make life-saving decisions.”

The Glia model stethoscope template is currently being used by physicians and health care providers in Gaza as well as at the London Health Sciences Centre, the researchers said. They said they plan to create clinically validated templates for other medical devices such as, ECG machines, tourniquets and otoscopes.