Stethoscopes and Deadly Infections
January 12, 2019
According to recent medical research, stethoscopes that are used in intensive care units are teeming with dangerous bacteria. Since healthcare acquired infections – also known as HAIs – are involved in at least 100,000 fatalities every year, limiting preventable infections is critical. Research shows that implementing safety and health systems, like ones that teach healthcare professionals how to maintain and properly store and use medical equipment, is just one way to decrease the rate of fatal HAIs.
What are Stethoscopes and What are they used for?
Stethoscopes are a type of medical instrument used for listening to a person’s heart or breathing rate. Stethoscopes usually have small, disc-shaped resonators that medical professionals will place against a person’s chest or back. The resonator is connected via two tubes to earpieces, which allow the nurse or doctor to hear the patient’s breathing or heartbeat. The stethoscope’s resonator is sometimes also referred to as a diaphragm.
According to the researchers behind the study, every stethoscope used in the intensive care unit that they examined was “severely contaminated with a variety of pathogens.” These stethoscopes are typically referred to as “practitioner stethoscopes.” The second-most contaminated stethoscopes were the ones stored in patient’s rooms. The types of bacterium and pathogens found on the contaminated stethoscopes cause a variety of serious infections, such as:
- Urinary tract infections, or UTIs;
- Pneumonia, and:
- Skin infections
Some of the infections related to contaminated stethoscopes can be deadly, such as certain cases of pneumonia and, depending on their severity, different skin infections. Previous studies have shown that certain parts of a stethoscope are more likely to be contaminated with a variety of bacterium and pathogens. The diaphragm of the stethoscope, for example, is prone to subtly storing germs.
Control Measures for Sanitizing Stethoscopes
This recent research confirms that there needs to be yet another overhaul to the way that medical professionals handle and sanitize equipment. We have previously written about healthcare acquired infections. A large part of this problem has to do with how equipment – and even patients – are handled by professionals.
Here are some effective control measures for ensuring that stethoscopes are not contaminated by pathogens and other deadly bacterium:
- Conduct a cleanliness check of the stethoscope between each patient encounter (and always wash your hands), and:
- Clean stethoscopes with a combination of ethanol, isopropyl alcohol (IPA), and chlorhexidine
One of the authors behind the research also noted that when practitioner stethoscopes were cleaned, a “significant reduction in bacterial contamination levels” was observed. This shows that by taking just a few seconds to a minute, a medical professional can make the difference between a patient having a routine medical encounter and the development of a fatal – though completely preventable – healthcare acquired infection.
There is nothing wrong with advocating for yourself – especially when it comes to healthcare. If you are with a nurse or doctor who is about to use a stethoscope and you have concerns about how clean it is, simply speak up! Patients with compromised immune systems, cancer, and certain other medical conditions are particularly vulnerable to HAIs.
Do you have More Questions?
If you have more questions about whether or not your illness or injury was the result of a medical professional deviating from the accepted standard of care – or failing to provide a reasonably accepted level of care – please contact a representative at our firm who may be able to help.
Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Representing Injured Individuals Since 1947
If you were a victim of medical negligence, we are happy to answer your questions and have one of our Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Galfand Berger review your case for free. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.