The lives of doctors and nurses may soon get easier, thanks to an idea by students at the University of Melbourne, which aims to turn an ordinary smartphone into a medicinal instrument.

Four students have created a new stethoscope that can plug directly into a smartphone, analysing the breathing sounds and patterns put out by the patient. The concept is said to be 4,000 time cheaper than any other commercial stethoscope solutions currently available.

“Sadly, the experience for many parents is that by the time a child is seen by a doctor, it’s often too late; our solution aims to put a stop to this,” said Mr Hon Weng Chong, one of the students who created the digital stethoscope.

“In some countries, parents are known to hold off taking their kids for medical care because they often think a cough is just a cold and the nearest clinic can be a day’s walk away. But what if any mother could diagnose pneumonia? What if a healthcare or community worker on every corner could have the power in their hands to help save a life?”

The digital stethoscope was the winning entry in Microsoft’s “Imagine Cup”, a competition that encourages students to come up with technological answers to problems in the world.

As the winner for Australia, the four students will now take their digital stethoscope to the worldwide finals being held in Sydney in July, competing against projects from more than 100 countries.