CDC recommends that we clean our stethoscopes after seeing each patient, yet most physicians clean their stethoscopes infrequently (if at all—looking at you, Justin.) A 2019 physician survey revealed that, among 62 participants, more than half had never cleaned their stethoscopes. Furthermore, anecdotal observations suggest that when stethoscopes are cleaned, it usually occurs after placing the device on a patient rather than before examination.
A small study recently published in Cureus found that bacterial contamination of 30 hospital providers’ stethoscopes before seeing patients (50% bacterial contamination rate) and after seeing a single patient (36.7% bacterial contamination rate) had a higher chance of being contaminated compared with stethoscopes cleaned before each patient (0% bacterial contamination rate). The vast majority (80%) of physicians in the study did not clean their stethoscopes regularly; and 50% of stethoscopes, when swabbed straight from clinicians’ coat pockets, were contaminated with bacteria.
Clinicians who clean their stethoscopes tend to do so after examining a patient; however, this study’s findings suggest that cleaning should be performed immediately before examining a patient. 1 in 6 of the clinicians who regularly cleaned their stethoscopes still had bacterial contamination right out of the coat pocket, and 36.7% of the stethoscopes were contaminated with bacteria after seeing just one patient. As such, for maximum effectiveness, stethoscopes should be cleaned before examining patients.