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Is Your Doctor’s Stethoscope a Health Hazard?

Is Your Doctor’s Stethoscope a Health Hazard?

Stethoscopes are an iconic symbol for health care providers. Most physicians and nurses wear a stethoscope draped around their neck for quick access. There are currently no clear guidelines to tell health care providers how often a stethoscope should be disinfected. A new study suggests that the diaphragms and tubes of stethoscopes are at least as contaminated as physicians’ finger tips after a patient exam.

Doctors examined 83 patients in a Swiss teaching hospital. After each exam the researchers cultured the fingers, hands and stethoscopes of the examining physicians. In most cases the stethoscopes were found to have more germs than the doctors own hands. Because the bell of the stethoscope is often placed directly on patients’ skin, that means there could easily be transfer of bacteria from one person to another.

Health care providers may be slow to adopt stethoscope decontamination between patient encounters, so it will be up to patients themselves to verify that a doctor has washed her hands and cleaned her stethoscope before permitting a physical exam.

[MAYO Clinic Proceedings, March, 2014]

We have interviewed an entrepreneur, Tuan Dam, who has introduced a device that allows for stethoscope disinfection without interrupting the providers’ workflow.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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