Patient Safety: Stethoscopes and Bacterial Contamination
July 14, 2023
Results from a recent study involving clinicians at two American teaching hospitals showed that only 20% reported that they clean their stethoscopes regularly between patient visits. Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation that clinicians should clean their stethoscopes after every patient encounter, the study’s findings show just how much a quick and careless mistake can jeopardize a patient’s health.
A stethoscope is a medical instrument that a healthcare provider uses to listen to the action of someone’s heart or breathing. According to the study’s findings, just one listen without proper cleaning can result in bacterial contamination. To determine bacterial contamination on a stethoscope from failing to clean it regularly or from taking it directly out of the pocket of a lab coat, investigators measured levels on each clinician’s instrument diaphragm surface. Here are some examples of what they found:
- Bacterial contamination was “significantly more common” on clinicians’ stethoscopes surfaces directly out of their lab coat (50%)
- Bacterial contamination was 37% more common on clinicians’ stethoscopes after examining one patient
- Bacterial contamination on clinicians’ stethoscopes was 0% after performing a stethoscope surface cleaning
- Clinicians who cleaned their stethoscopes regularly (at least three times per day) were less likely than other clinicians to have contaminated stethoscopes directly out of their lab coats (17% contamination rate versus 58%)
Investigators say that the study confirms what they already believed: that stethoscopes are frequently contaminated with bacteria and that too rarely do clinicians follow recommendations and guidelines in regard to cleaning them regularly. Considering their findings, the researchers say that the high probability of bacterial contamination at baseline (and after examining only one patient) makes a strong argument for decontamination before, not after, each patient encounter.
Previous studies have found that stethoscopes can be contaminated with different types of dangerous bacteria, such as:
- Acinetobacter. Acinetobacter is a group of germs that can cause infection in the blood, urinary tract and pneumonia
- Staphylococcus aureus, a Gram-positive bacterium that is commonly found in the respiratory tract and/or on the skin
- Pseudomonas. Pseudomonas is a genus of Gram-negative bacteria that can cause infections in the blood, lungs (pneumonia), or other parts of the body, particularly after surgery
Infections of the blood, lungs, respiratory tract and skin can cause catastrophic health complications for patients, especially those who face higher risks because of certain medical conditions, age or other related factors. Sepsis, or septicemia, for example, is the clinical name for blood poisoning by bacteria. Although it is the body’s most extreme response to an infection, the CDC estimates that 1.7 million Americans develop sepsis and that nearly 270,000 die from it each year. On a global scale, one person loses their life to sepsis every 2.8 seconds.
Protecting Patients from Preventable Hospital-Acquired Infections – And When to Contact a Lawyer
Nearly every one of us has heard a horror story about a friend or family member who contracted an infection when they were in the hospital being treated by doctors for something else. Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), like the ones that patients may pick up from a stethoscope contaminated with bacteria, are fairly common these days. Though they can cause extended illnesses or even death, most hospital-acquired infections can be prevented with attention, discipline and care.
Medical malpractice occurs when doctors, hospitals, or other healthcare providers fail to follow their own professional standards and cause injury or death. At Galfand Berger, our attorneys have decades of experience representing victims of medical negligence. In one case, we represented a client who suffered bone fractures from a fall. Our client’s doctor sent him home without recognizing the symptoms of a severe infection, which ended up causing major complications for our client. Our attorneys settled this matter for $1.3 million. To read more about this recovery, please visit: https://www.galfandberger.com/verdicts/Medical-Malpractice/20-2/.
If you have questions about filing a medical malpractice claim, someone at our firm can help. To learn more, contact a representative online now.
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