Blog | Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Why can't we easily clean our stethoscopes?

I just finished two weeks on the inpatient internal medicine service. When we round on the service every morning, I insist on 100% hand hygiene and 100% stethoscope hygiene but one of these targets is far easier to achieve than the other.

As my colleague Mike Edmond, MD, FACP, mentioned last year, almost 50% of stethoscopes are contaminated with pathogens including Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin-resistant S. aureus. Despite this level of contamination, hospitals have done almost nothing to make cleaning them quick and easy.

Like many (? all) hospitals, we have hand rub dispensers every few feet but nothing easily available to clean our stethoscopes. I usually end up “bothering” nurses to give us a few alcohol prep pads, but this uses up their daily supply and generally seems like an unnecessary barrier. Why can't we have wipes next to the hand rub dispensers outside of every room? That way we can actually achieve 100% stethoscope hygiene. If we don't develop good systems, we can't expect good results. How do you practice stethoscope hygiene at your hospital?

Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands). This post originally appeared at the blog Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention.