Observation of stethoscope sanitation practices in an emergency department setting

Published:November 08, 2018DOI:


      • Stethoscopes can be contaminated with pathogens when hygiene is not performed.
      • Stethoscopes might be contributing to the problem of health care–acquired infection.
      • Rates of stethoscope hygiene are low among providers.
      • Stethoscope hygiene and contamination are insufficiently addressed in policies and guidelines.


      Stethoscopes harbor pathogens that can be transferred to patients when proper sanitary measures are not taken. Our aim was to assess medical provider stethoscope cleaning and hand hygiene in an emergency department setting.


      The frequency and methods of stethoscope cleaning during and after provider-patient encounters were observed anonymously in an emergency department of the VA San Diego Healthcare System.


      Among the total of 426 encounters, 115 (26.9%) involved the use of a personal stethoscope. In 15 of these 115 encounters (13.0%), the provider placed a glove over the stethoscope before patient contact. In 13 of these 115 encounters (11.3%), the provider cleaned the stethoscope with an alcohol swab after patient interaction. Stethoscope hygiene with water and a hand towel before patient interaction was observed in 5 of these 115 encounters (4.3%). Hand sanitizer use or handwashing was observed in 213 of the 426 encounters (50.0%) before patient interaction. Gloves were used before patient interaction in 206 of these 426 encounters (48.4%). Hand sanitizer or handwashing was used in 332 of the 426 encounters (77.9%) after patient interaction.


      Rates of stethoscope and hand hygiene performance were lower than expected. Further investigation of stethoscope contamination and the associated risk of nosocomial infection are needed. Perhaps clearer guidelines on proper stethoscope cleaning would reduce this risk.

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