Do you really think your doctor cleans his stethoscope between patients? As a busy, practicing pediatrician, I can tell you that the answer is no. Medical studies suggest that doctors and nurses clean their stethoscopes infrequently, once a week to once a year. In some studies a staggering 37% admit to never cleaning their stethoscopes (Parmar; Africa-Purino*). Most physicians and nurses I have questioned felt guilty about their failure to regularly clean their stethoscopes but admitted that they were too busy to perform this chore when it was needed. Even stethoscopes dedicated to a specific hospital unit are rarely cleaned by nursing staff in my experience.
Organizations such as the WHO and the CDC are calling for technologies to decrease the spread of bacteria in the hospital setting. We are in the midst of an epidemic of hospital infections. Infections due to aggressive multiple drug resistant bacteria such as methecillin resistant staph aureus (MSRA) and vancomycin resistant enterococcus (VRE) are becoming increasingly frequent and account for and estimated 5% of acute care hospitalizations (Salgado;
Nguyen*). Hospital acquired infections are estimated to more than double the mortality rate of any admitted patient and result in an estimated 90,000 deaths per year (Nguyen; Clark). When patient stays are complicated by such infections, costs for a single hospitalization are estimated to increase by as much as $17,400 per occurrence
(Salgado*). Utilizing precaution methods in MSRA and VRE outbreak scenarios at one hospital was recently reported to result in savings of more than $180,000 in health care costs per year
Does stethoscope hygiene matter? Cultures of the diaphragm of stethoscopes reveal as many as 8 different strains of bacteria present on regularly used stethoscopes (Melanson*). This can occur after listening to the chest of a single patient for as little as 5 minutes (Africa-Purino*). Random stethoscope cultures pick up not only skin bacteria but also more problematic organisms such as MSRA and VRE mentioned above (Zachery*). Current recommendations by the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization recommend regular periodic cleaning with detergent and water and 70% alcohol cleaning between each patient. Studies suggest that a 70% alcohol solution will kills 95 to 98% of bacteria on surfaces (Zachery;
WHO*). Alcohol has been shown to be the most effective cleaning agent acting immediately to achieve sanitation (Saloogee; Marinella;
So why are physicians and nurses avoiding this important aspect of patient care? Cleaning stethoscopes is time consuming and inconvenient. If a physician is rounding on patients in the hospital, he or she must remember to bring alcohol swabs along or locate them after each patient contact. Then a trash receptacle must be found to discard the waste. What is needed is a cleaning system that attaches to the stethoscope and requires almost no effort to use. The Stethecozy™ is the answer!
The Stethecozy™ is a flexible enclosure which attaches to the stethoscope itself and easily slides up and down to cover the head of the
stethoscope (see below for an animated demonstration). Inside this enclosure are replaceable pads which hold alcohol gel. When the stethoscope is not being used the enclosure slides down to cover the diaphragm and bell of the stethoscope and continuously exposes the surface to alcohol gel. This sanitizes the instrument before use on the next patient. The unit then slides up the scope so that the sanitized instrument can be easily used when listening to a patient. The alcohol gel can be renewed in about 30 seconds as needed depending on the frequency of stethoscope use, most commonly once each day. Pads can be replaced as needed. Please see the accompanying photographs to get a better idea of how the Stethecozy™ functions.
The Stethecozy™ may become a standard of care for physicians and nurses. In the US alone there are an estimated
567,000 MDs, 3,126,000 nurses and 62,000 MD assistants for a total market of
nearly 4,000,000 medical practitioners (AMA; Registered Nurses; Auerbach*). Estimated cost for mass production of the Stethecozy™ would be $0.50 per unit and quite possibly much less. Sales of replaceable pads would be an ongoing source of long term revenue. Sales of product exclusive accessories such as alcohol gel, advertising, etc. would increase profits. Alcohol gel is already on the market as a hand sanitizer and should not require further approval prior to use.
Disposable units could easily be manufactured out of inexpensive materials if hospitals wished to provide them for staff. These units could come prepackaged with alcohol gel pads and would be discarded at the end of the shift. Disposable varieties would be especially useful to rural health providers or those providing medical care to the victims of natural disasters.
The design of the Stethecozy™ reveals what an incredible advertising format it presents on its highly visible front surface. Drug companies are always looking for new, unique ways to advertise. The Stethecozy™ would be a great way to increase brand awareness. Every doctor in America could be wearing your companies name around his neck. What better way to showcase a company or product's name than to put it on a stethoscope for patients to see.
The Stethecozy™ can be easily customized to include the names of healthcare personnel, the logos of sports teams, colleges, and even popular sporting events. The Stethecozy™ could
also display the names of medical school and healthcare system affiliations. What a great public relations tool to show patients that their physician and healthcare organization care.