The Third Hand

Just like a clinician’s hands, stethoscopes can, and DO, harbor dangerous contaminants and organisms. Unlike our two hands, there is no easy, rapid, or effective way to clean our "third hand."

DIAPHRAGMS AND FINGERTIPS, EQUALLY POTENT VECTORS FOR PATHOGENS1

The stethoscope diaphragm carries the same volume and diversity of pathogens as the Hand1

“Transmission of pathogens…by stethoscopes could undermine the benefits of hand hygiene programs”2

CONTAMINATION OF STETHOSCOPES AND PHYSICIANS’ HANDS AFTER A PHYSICAL EXAMINATION1

study: 489 sample surfaces

Conclusion: Stethoscope contamination is "substantial after a single physical examination and comparable to contamination" of the physician’s hand.

THE CLINICIAN’S THIRD HAND: CONTAMINATED STETHOSCOPES ARE COMMON AND POSE A SIGNIFICANT SAFETY RISK 

STETHOSCOPE CLEANING
STANDARD OF CARE

1-minute with alcohol wipe

Seldom performed

Ineffective against resistant pathogens

Surfaces often remain contaminated

CLINICIANS RARELY CLEAN THEIR STETHOSCOPES

Less than 4% of stethoscopes are cleaned between patients per CDC guidelines3

STETHOSCOPE COMPLIANCE
WITH CDC GUIDELINES

WHEN PERFORMED PATHOGENS USUALLY REMAIN

Contamination is reduced but not eliminated
after cleaning4

BACTERIAL CONTAMINATION
PRE-AND POST-PRACTITIONER CLEANING

SHARED (DISPOSABLE) STETHOSCOPES REDUCE SOUND QUALITY AND MAY CONTAMINATE STAFF AND PATIENTS5

"Practitioner and patient room stethoscopes are colonized with nosocomial pathogens, and cleaning reduces but doesn’t always eliminate contamination”6
NEJM Journal Watch, January 7, 2019