Studies have shown that stethoscope contamination after a single patient examination is comparable to that of the doctor’s dominant hand. Pathogens cultured from stethoscopes include Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Clostridium difficile, and vancomycin-resistant enterococci.
Although it is recommended that reusable medical equipment, like stethoscopes, are disinfected between patients, studies have shown there are poor rates of compliance. A team of researchers from Yale University was surprised to find that among medical students and doctors starting a four-week rotation, none were performing good stethoscope hygiene. They initiated a quality improvement pilot project on stethoscope hygiene, but at the end of the pilot period, the numbers did not improve.
Presenting their findings in the American Journal of Infection Control, the authors said: “While the project had several limitations, it does highlight how rarely stethoscope hygiene is performed. Standard education may not be the answer to this problem. Behavioural and cultural modification to improve hand hygiene still remains a challenge, despite being studied in large randomised trials. Stethoscope hygiene implementation will need more consistent efforts to change culture and habits. We believe that stethoscope hygiene should be included in all hospital hand hygiene initiatives along with increased accountability.”
Holleck, JL. et al. Can education influence stethoscope hygiene? American Journal of Infection Control 2017; 45(7): 811-812.