Most stethoscopes full of germs, as doctors pay little attention to their hygiene: US study

Mumbai city news: researchers found that hand hygiene rates were 58%, while stethoscope hygiene rate was almost 0%

mumbai Updated: Jul 20, 2017 22:55 IST
Aayushi Pratap
Aayushi Pratap
Hindustan Times
Mumbai city news,hygiene,doctors
Failing to disinfect stethoscope could constitute a serious patient safety issue, similar to ignoring hand hygiene. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A study conducted at the tertiary care department of Veterans Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut, United States, revealed that most physicians ignore ‘stethoscope hygiene’ between attending patients. Stethoscope hygiene refers to cleaning of stethoscope using alcohol swabs, alcohol gels, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitisers. Previous research had shown that after examination of a patient , a stethoscope could be as contaminated as the doctors hand.

Commenting on the issue, Dr Jayanthi Shastri, professor and head of microbiology department at BYL Nair Hospital, Mumbai Central, said, “Disinfecting the stethoscope with alcohol, between attending patients, is a must. But in India, given the number of patients that a doctor attends to, there is no thought given to it.”

She added, “When a doctor attends to a patient, it is mostly the microbes from the patient’s skins which get transferred on to the stethoscope. Immunity level of every patient is different, so we need to be careful. This becomes important while attending patients with immuno-compromised condiction or those in the ICU. Cellphones are another source of infections. Unfortunately, the hospitals fail to use them judiciously.”

But, a few hospitals have rules on stethoscope use. Dr Tushar Vora, who works at Tata Memorial Hospital’s paediatric unit, said they have 48 beds and doctors use a different stethoscope for each patient. “Every time we check a patient, we use a separate instrument. This prevents infection,” he said.

In the latest study, two doctors recorded the hand hygiene and stethoscope hygiene rates among medical students, resident physicians and attending physicians during their first four-week rotation. They found that hand hygiene rates were 58%, while stethoscope hygiene rate was almost 0%. Doctors did not treat stethoscope hygiene with the same concern as hand washing. The study was published in the American Journal of Infection Control on July 18.

The authors said, “When our final observations showed zero incidences of stethoscope hygiene for the same teams that were educated, it was clear that our educational efforts and providing supplies (to clean the stethoscope) were insufficient to change culture or habits.”

“Despite limitations (of the study), we think this highlights an important, but often overlooked infection control issue by discovering how rarely stethoscope is done and education may not be the answer,” it added.

In an article published by scientific journal Science AAS, Linda Greene, president of APIC, 2017 reiterated the importance of maintaining stethoscope hygiene. “stethoscopes are used repeatedly throughout the day and become contaminated after each patient exposure, so they must be treated as potential vectors of transmission.”“Failing to disinfect stethoscope could constitute a serious patient safety issue, similar to ignoring hand hygiene,” she added.

First Published: Jul 20, 2017 22:54 IST