Angie SzumlinskiNews

Whether you work in post-acute care, urgent care, an ER, a physician office, or home health, we all use stethoscopes, right? Well, a recent study published in PubMed made me shudder a little bit! We do it and we witness it every day, nurse takes a blood pressure and hangs the stethoscope around her/his neck. The doctor checks lung sounds and wraps the stethoscope up and shoves it in the pocket of a lab coat. Or worse, CNA rolls a blood pressure machine into a resident room, takes the stethoscope off the machine, checks the blood pressure, and returns the stethoscope to the basket on the machine.

So what you ask? Well, this structured, prospective study two sections of the stethoscopes were pressed onto selective and non-selective media and lo and behold, guess what grew? Yep, MRSA! The results suggest that the contamination level of the stethoscope is substantial after a single examination and comparable to the contamination of parts of the physician’s dominant hand.

What is your facility practice regarding stethoscope use and sanitizing? Hopefully, each of your staff members has their own individual stethoscope which will help reduce the risk of spreading germs. However, if staff are not cleaning the equipment on a regular basis, they could be spreading germs like MRSA! Another study found that 76% of healthcare providers believed that infection transmission occurs via stethoscopes, however only 24% reported disinfecting after every use! Here are a few tips:

  1. Disassemble your stethoscope and thoroughly clean the tubing using a 70% isopropyl solution.
  2. Remove the part of the stethoscope that “helps make auscultating easier” (tunable diaphragm).
  3. Wipe the diaphragm with soapy water or alcohol.
  4. Clean earpieces with soapy water or alcohol wipes.
  5. Allow stethoscope to dry thoroughly before reassembling.

Are these steps practical every time you use your stethoscope? Probably not however, think of the germs you may eliminate by just cleaning a much-used medical device! The CDC recommends the use of disposable stethoscopes however these devices have poor acoustic properties. There are also disposable aseptic stethoscope diaphragm barriers that can provide increased safety without sacrificing stethoscope function. Talk with your team, it may be prudent to purchase additional stethoscopes to allow time in between each use for properly cleaning the device or the diaphragm covers which is likely a less costly purchase (about $15/100 covers). Stay well and stay informed!