Healthcare News & Insights

How to reduce germs in your hospital, one stethoscope at a time

While hand-washing has been promoted as one of the best ways to stop germs from sickening patients in hospitals, other supplies and equipment your clinicians use need to be clean, too – like your stethoscopes.

177255106In one recent study, published in this month’s edition of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the cleanliness of stethoscopes was tested – and the results weren’t pretty.

Following patient exams, researchers tested the level of bacteria concentration on several doctors’ stethoscopes and compared it to the germs found on their hands.

The stethoscopes tested were almost as germy as the doctors’ fingertips, which tend to carry the most germs after an exam. All other areas of the doctors’ hands had lower levels of bacteria than the stethoscopes did.

Similar results were seen when testing stethoscopes used when treating patients who had MRSA – the unsanitized instruments carried the bacteria.

Doctors who carefully wash their hands after seeing each patient may not think to disinfect their stethoscopes. But it’s very important for them to do so. Bacteria lingering on stethoscopes could contribute to the spread of hospital-acquired infections.

If your hospital doesn’t encourage physicians to sterilize stethoscopes with antibacterial or alcohol wipes after every use, it’s in your best interest to start.

Other items hiding germs

Besides stethoscopes, germs could be lurking in other places you may not think to check, as discussed in an article from USA Today. In fact, bacteria could even be lingering on lab coats and other clothing.

Scrubs are washed regularly – usually every one or two days. But lab coats are usually cleaned less often, as little as once every 12 days, according to a recent survey cited in the USA Today piece.

And neckties, which many doctors wear as they make their rounds, are almost never cleaned. Yet research suggests that up to a third of doctors’ ties are contaminated with bacteria.

An article appearing in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology lists five simple guidelines to keep clothing and other items from spreading germs:

  1. Skip wearing them altogether. Ties and lab-coats aren’t always necessary for doctors. In fact, some hospitalists only wear scrubs, just like other non-physician staffers. Additionally, doctors should avoid wearing any non-essential accessories such as watches, bracelets and rings while on duty.
  2. Wash items regularly. If your docs don’t want to give up their lab coats, tell them to wash the articles of clothing in hot water and bleach, at least once a week (more if visibly soiled). Keep ties tucked into lab coats to avoid patient contact during exams, and encourage doctors to wash them on a regular basis, as well.
  3. Go “bare below the elbows.” Have clinicians trade in longer-sleeved attire for short sleeves. This keeps germs from attaching themselves to shirt cuffs, which can’t be washed throughout the day.
  4. Keep equipment that’s not directly related to care out of the exam room. It’s smart for doctors to keep their cellphones and pagers put away while visiting patients. If these items somehow come in direct contact with a patient, they should be disinfected immediately.

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