by Michel H.E. Hermans, MD
A recent article in Mayo Clinic’s Proceedings1 studies contamination of stethoscopes. After a standardized physical examination, several parts of the physicians’ hand were cultured and the results were compared to cultures of the stethoscope diaphragm and tube. As it turned out, fingertip contamination was highest but the diaphragm of the stethoscope showed a higher level than the thenar eminence of the physician’s hand. The conclusion of the article stated that the stethoscope may play a serious role in cross contaminating patients.
The study was executed well and the conclusion valid, which thus raises the question: what do we do about it? Wipe the entire stethoscope (the tubes were contaminated as well), use a diaphragm cover or a separate stethoscope for each patient?
This type of study is not new. The authors themselves quoted a series of similar articles, with one going back to 1972.2 Other studies have shown similar threats from neckties3,4 and white coats. Guidelines on how to minimize the chance of cross contamination are abundant and have been around for a long time. Most hospitals have their own guidelines, many of them based on those issued by the World Health Organization … read more