Practice of Stethoscope Hygiene in a University Based Academic Medical Center

1University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA
2Boston University, Boston, MA

Meeting: Hospital Medicine 2014, March 24-27, Las Vegas, Nev.

Abstract number: 76


Many hospitals emphasize the importance of hand hygiene, which is one of the most important ways to prevent hospital‐acquired infections. However, relatively little attention is paid to stethoscope hygiene, although they can transfer dangerous pathogens between patients just like hands. The practice of stethoscope hygiene behavior was observed at a university based academic medical center. Preliminary and anecdotal evidence suggests that very few doctors adequately clean their stethoscopes between patients, which could be a potential threat to various infectious diseases.


Background research on the current findings on stethoscope hygiene practice was reviewed prior to completing a protocol narrative for IRB submission. After IRB approval, an observational prospective study of physicians, residents, and medical students was conducted and they were shadowed and observed during ward rounds. Data was collected in order to determine whether the participants practiced stethoscope hygiene after each interaction with their patients, and if so, how: (1) by use of a patient specific “isolation” stethoscope, (2) application of hand sanitizer, or (3) a purpose‐made disinfecting cloth for equipment cleaning.


Among the 62 interactions observed between patients and attending physicians, residents, or medical students, 92% (57/62) did not clean their stethoscopes, while the remaining 8% (5/62) did. In contrast, among interactions with isolated patients, 83.3% (5/6) appropriately cleaned their stethoscopes afterwards. Of the 5 interactions that involved the cleaning of stethoscope, all used disinfecting cloths for equipment cleaning provided on the ward. Among those 5 interactions, 2 were by residents and 3 by the attending. Both residents cleaned their stethoscopes after seeing the attending clean theirs. Furthermore, none of the 57 interactions with non‐isolated patients involved the cleaning of stethoscope.


Though the majority of interactions with isolated patients involved the cleaning of stethoscopes, none cleaned after interacting with non‐isolated patients. It was observed that residents were more likely to clean their stethoscopes when they see the attending physicians clean theirs. It is believed to be important for the attending physicians to be a good role model so residents and medical students will adapt the good habit of cleaning their stethoscopes after each patient interaction, regardless of isolated or nonisolated patients. Future interventions such as increasing the amount and visibility of cleaning materials like alcohol pads, putting up pictures of stethoscopes being cleaned on the walls and doors of each room as a reminder, and an educational intervention requiring healthcare professionals to attend a stethoscope hygiene training at orientation before they start working at the hospital are potential strategies to increase awareness for healthcare providers and potentially reduce morbidity and mortality. Limitations of the study include small number size and single site study.

To cite this abstract:

Amin A, Wu J. Practice of Stethoscope Hygiene in a University Based Academic Medical Center. Abstract published at Hospital Medicine 2014, March 24-27, Las Vegas, Nev. Abstract 76. Journal of Hospital Medicine. 2014; 9 (suppl 2). Accessed April 8, 2020.

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