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Dirty Stethoscopes and a Novel New Stethoscope Disinfectant Product

New study shows that the amount of bacteria on a stethoscope can be higher than all parts of the doctor's hand except for the fingertips after examining a patient.  Although this study was performed with physicians, let’s go ahead and extend this to all healthcare workers that use a stethoscope.
Stethoscopes are a primary tool of healthcare but as this study shows they may be a primary tool for spreading infection as well.

"Germs are acquired from the patient's skin in contact with the stethoscope, the same way hands usually get colonized with the patient's germs," said study senior author Dr. Didier Pittet, director of the Infection Control Program at University of Geneva Hospitals, in Switzerland.

"The important implication is that the stethoscope, whether used by a doctor, a nurse, an assistant nurse or any staff, needs to be cleansed after each use," said Pittet, who also heads the World Health Organization's Collaborating Centre on Patient Safety at the hospitals.

In the study, physicians examined 71 patients using sterile gloves and a sterile stethoscope.
After doctors completed the examination, researchers measured the bacteria on the tube and diaphragm of the stethoscope. They also tested the fingertips, ball of the thumb, palm and back of the physicians' hands for bacteria.

They found that the stethoscope and the fingertips tended to be more contaminated than all other parts of the physicians' hands, both with bacteria in general and MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) specifically. They also found that the contamination level of the stethoscope increased with contamination of the hands.

"Although infection cross-transmission from one patient to another has not been demonstrated in this study, it seems clear that staff and doctor stethoscopes constitute an extension of their fingertips in terms of risk for germ's cross-transmission," Pittet said.

Pittet considers the study one of the first to provide evidence that health care providers should clean their stethoscopes. But he says it may be years before any guidelines actually come out. That's because research has yet to show just how many patient-to-patient infections are associated with the spread of bacteria through medical equipment.

As part of any good infection prevention program reuseable equipment should be cleaned between patients.  Doesn’t that just make common sense? After reading this study in news outlets from all around the web, I ran across a novel new product- well at least it was novel to me!  A stethoscope holder with disinfectant sponge could be a simple solution to the “dirty stethascope” problem.  This disinfectant product holds the stethoscope diaphragm in contact with a disinfecting sponge. Also equipped with a magnet holder it allows the device to be clipped to your uniform. Wish I would have thought of this.  To learn more about this device click here, but don’t forget to cleanse the stethoscope tube as well.  

You can read all of the down and dirty news reports on dirty stethoscopes from these news outlets NPR, Newsmax and USA Today

Pedagogy blog written by Capra Dalton, RN,CEO.  

Capra has more than 28 years of experience in infusion therapy and the instruction of licensed nurses in infusion therapy continuing education. Her experience comes from multiple infusion settings: acute care, ambulatory infusion centers, home infusion, long term care continuing education provider, and long term care pharmacy quality assurance consultant. 
Posted: 3/7/2014 9:57:06 AM
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