It’s so routine we don’t even think about it… During just about every doctor appointment, your doctor takes his stethoscope in hand and places it against your chest and back to listen to your lungs and heart.
A new study shows that, unbeknownst to your doctor, stethoscopes are often loaded with bacteria. Some of them can cause serious infections.
The research was published in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.
The researchers analyzed stethoscopes used in an intensive care unit. They looked at both regular stethoscopes and disposable ones. Disposable stethoscopes are used on one patient and then thrown away.
The study found that all stethoscopes that had been used on patients were contaminated with a wide variety of bacteria. Many were types known to cause life-threatening infections in healthcare settings.
The bacteria that cause staph infections, Staphylococcus, were found in large quantities on all stethoscopes. More than half the instruments had S. aureus. This kind of staph bacteria can cause fatal diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis.1
You might think that learning to clean your stethoscope would be a basic part of medical school… But you’d be wrong.
Dr. Ronald Collman was senior author of the study. He says that wasn’t part of his training. What’s more, he doesn’t know if it’s taught now. “But it would be an excellent idea,” he says.2
He also recommends greater use of disposable stethoscopes.
Don’t Tolerate a Dirty Stethoscope
Before your doctor uses a stethoscope on you, tell him or her about this study. You can even bring this article to the appointment.
The study evaluated various cleaning methods. They included using hydrogen peroxide wipes, alcohol swabs, and bleach wipes. All the methods reduced bacteria on stethoscopes.
Explain that you’d prefer the instrument be cleaned before it’s used on you. Or ask if disposable stethoscopes are available.
Don’t be shy about requesting a clean stethoscope. Remember, your doctor works for you.