Rates of Stethoscope & Hand Hygiene Practices ‘Lower than Expected’

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The subject of stethoscopes is something that comes up a lot on Nurse Focus. I will move onto other areas of healthcare soon I promise, (I am building this website up in my spare time so allocating enough hours in the day does prove difficult).

Anyway, to support what I have been reporting elsewhere on the site, here’s some information of a study recently published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

The study took an in depth examination of stethoscope cleaning and hand hygiene practices in a busy emergency department setting.

Researchers were strategically positioned so that they could anonymously observe stethoscope cleaning and hand hygiene methods of healthcare professionals.

In total the study researchers observed the conduct of 426 patient encounters. (The location for study was at an ED within the VA San Diego Healthcare System.)

Of the 426 encounters studied, 26.1 percent involved an interchange that included the use of a personal stethoscope.

Here's was the researchers found during those encounters that involved a stethoscope:
  • In 13% of the encounters the healthcare provider placed a glove over the stethoscope before patient contact.
  • In 4.3% of encounters the healthcare worker cleaned the stethoscope with water and a hand towel before the patient interaction.
  • In 11.3% the providers cleaned the stethoscope with an alcohol swab after an interaction had been completed.
  • In 50% of encounters healthcare workers used hand sanitizers or washed hands before patient interaction.
  • In 77.9% of encounters the professional used hand sanitizer or washed their hands after the interaction.
  • In 48.4% of encounters, gloves were used before the patient interaction took place.

“Rates of stethoscope and hand hygiene performance were lower than expected,” the study authors concluded.

stethoscope report

To me the above quote is an understatement of fact. Nothing short of 100% should be tolerated in all aspects of worker / patient hygiene interaction.

The act of cleaning before and after the event should be an automatic procedure that the healthcare worker does not even think about. We should be doing this subconciously.

And while a 100% rate may seem unrealistic, it is certainly what we should be striving for. Only 4.3% of encounters involved a fully cleansed stethoscope; that is alarming.

All of us in the industry need to be working much harder at increasing our rates of stethoscope and hand hygiene when dealing with patients.

About Hannah Drake

Hannah Drake, RN, CSP is a registered nurse and owner and founder of Nurse Focus. Her nursing career spans almost two decades, and in that time she has developed her skill base across a variety of settings, including med surg nursing, clinical informatics system administration and implementation, and healthcare community management. Contact Hannah.

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