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.