A recent study in May Clinic Proceedings showed what so many studies before it have shown; our hands and the equipment we use are easily contaminated with pathogens that can be spread to the next patient. In this case, the diaphragm of a stethoscope was shown to be contaminated with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) more often than any part of the clinicians' hands except the finger tips. Finger tips had a median 12 colony forming units (CFU, a way to count bacterial cultures per square cm surface area) and the stethoscope diaphragm had a median of 7. Other parts of the hand had half or less of this level of contamination. Of note, there was a strong correlation between the level of contamination on the clinicians' finger tips and the diaphragm of their stethoscope (r = 0.76, p < 0.001). So, there was a direct relationship between hand contamination and stethoscope contamination.
We are learning that health care providers, and anesthesia providers in specific, are easily contaminated with patient pathogens and can spread them to the next patient just as easily. While we are generally left wondering how to address this problem that seems too big to solve, this study suggests one thought that can easily be put into practice. When we think we need to wash or disinfect our hands, if we've used our stethoscope we need to clean it as well.