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Dirty Stethoscopes Bad for Patient Health

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Doctors Should Disinfect Their Stethoscope After Every Patient

Before the doctor sticks his stethoscope to your chest and asks you to “breathe deep” you might want to ask him if he disinfected it first.  A new study conducted by the University of Geneva found that stethoscopes pick up a plethora of bacteria from patients’ skin that can be transferred to the next patient in line.  Their findings were published in the March issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Stethoscopes Dirtier Than Doctors’ Hands

The researchers conducted their study with 71 patients administered to by one of three physicians.  The physicians used sterile gloves and a sterile stethoscope to begin and once they were done seeing a patient, two parts of the stethoscope were tested for bacteria as well as the physicians’ hands.  The results showed that both parts of the stethoscope were more contaminated than the physicians’ hands.  Specifically, the diaphragm of the stethoscope was dirtier than all parts of the physicians’ hands except for the fingertips, and the tube of the stethoscope was more contaminated than the back of the physicians’ hands.

Stethoscopes: An Extension of Doctors’ Hands

The study authors argue that their findings provide significant evidence for the utility of sanitizing stethoscopes after each patient.  In essence, the stethoscope should be considered “an extension of doctors’ hands”.  Considering that doctors may see dozens if not more patients per day whose skin comes into direct contact with the stethoscope, it is vital to disinfect following each visit.  The researchers also note that stethoscopes are a significant vector of bacteria including MRSA.