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The Hidden Danger of Stethoscopes in Maine

stethoscope-2-1080262-m-2.jpgMost Maine residents go to the doctor in hopes of taking care of their health. They don’t anticipate that a visit to the doctor will get them sick. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that every day an estimated 1 in 20 patients develops an infection, a good percentage of which happen because pathogens have spread between patients through the hands of health care professionals. There are guidelines recommending all physicians wash their hands before and after a patient visit. However, there aren’t similar guidelines that mandate disinfection after the use of medical equipment that comes into contact with patients.

A study by the Swiss director of infection control at University of Geneva Hospital found that people might be getting sick because doctors are not taking adequate precautions cleaning their stethoscopes between patients. The study’s author explained that there are no guidelines to clean stethoscopes, even though they carry as much bacteria as a doctor has on his fingertips.

The study was conducted between January 2009 and May 2009 at a Swiss university teaching hospital. The researchers studied three doctors that examined 83 hospital patients. The researchers were analyzing how much bacteria accumulated on different parts of the doctor’s gloved or ungloved dominant hand versus on the diaphragm and tube of the stethoscopes. 489 surfaces were sampled to assess bacteria.

The researchers examined all the bacteria collected in one phase. They only analyzed a particularly virulent bug in another phase. The bug in the other phase was MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — a bug frequently at issue in nursing home abuse cases).

After 71 of the 83 patient examinations, the density of bacteria was much higher on the stethoscope than on the palm or the bank of the hand. The most contaminated area of the physicians’ hands were their fingertips and, if they were heavily contaminated, so were the stethoscopes.

The dearth of knowledge about how much hospital equipment affects infections acquired in hospitals makes this a noteworthy study. There has been no conclusive formal study that shows that cleaner instruments would result in a greater reduction in infections, though common sense would lead you to that conclusion. This study may prompt a change in guidelines, but that’s still a few years away. Meanwhile, doctors could be using an alcohol-base wipe or rub to clean their stethoscopes. Their fingers and hands come into contact with many sources of pathogens as well as their stethoscopes.

What can you do now that you know about this gap in medical hygiene? The World Health Organization started asking doctors to wash their hands between patients back within the last two decades and now about 70% of doctors do. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask your doctor or the nurse to wash their hands and disinfect their stethoscopes. Doctors owe their patients the highest duty of care and this includes taking precautions to make sure they don’t inadvertently get their patients sick.

If you or a loved one has gotten sick or injured because a doctor failed to take necessary precautions, you may need the help of an experienced personal injury attorney to hold the doctor and hospital accountable. We can help you recover compensation for the losses you’ve suffered. At Briggs & Wholey, our experienced attorneys are available to answer your questions and provide trustworthy representation. To schedule a free consultation with a knowledgeable advocate, please contact Briggs & Wholey, LLC at (888) 596-1099 or through our website today.

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