Doctor, Have You Cleaned Your Stethoscope Today?

Oh boy.

Not so fast, doctor!

Just when we thought we had a handle on how to control the spread of infections acquired at the hospital – healthcare workers should wash their hands before every patient contact – along comes a study that tells us that we’re only seeing part of the picture.

Research just published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings tells us that stethoscopes carry more methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other bacteria after a physical exam than all other areas of the physician’s hand except the fingertips.

Here are the numbers that the study reports: fingertips were by far the dirtiest, with an average of 467 bacterial colony forming units/25 cm2, followed by the diaphragm of the stethoscope (the part that touches you) which averaged 89 colony forming units, then the base of the thumb at 37, the base of the pinkie finger at 34, and in last place, the back of the hand, with 8.

The lesson? Doctors can wash their hands all they want but if they don’t clean their stethoscope they are essentially transmitting MRSA to each patient they touch with their hands (because they’ll touch the stethoscope after they wash their hands) or examine with their stethoscope.

The researchers put it this way: “From infection control and patient safety perspectives, the stethoscope should be regarded as an extension of the physician’s hands and be disinfected after every patient contact.”

And what are the chances of that happening? “Most stethoscopes don’t get cleaned even once a month,” the study says.

Oh boy.

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