Legal considerations for stethoscope hygiene in a new era of infection control (COVID-19)


By: Edward Solensky, Jr.

A recent article in American Heart Journal Plus: Cardiology Research and Practice discusses how stethoscopes may be implicated in medical malpractice lawsuits as a potential cause of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). The authors note that while there is limited evidence demonstrating a direct connection between stethoscope contamination and HAIs, malpractice lawsuits often do not require direct causative evidence. The authors recommend making efforts to bolster stethoscope hygiene to not only mitigate patient harm, but also prevent providers from potential medical-legal conflicts. Hospital-acquired infections, also known as healthcare-associated infections (HAI), are nosocomially-acquired infections that are typically not present or might be incubating at the time of admission. These infections are usually acquired after hospitalization and manifest 48 hours after admission to the hospital. HAI infections include central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI), catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI), surgical site infections (SSI), Hospital-acquired Pneumonia (HAP), Ventilator-associated Pneumonia (VAP), and Clostridium difficile infections (CDI).

The stethoscope is a well-known acoustic medical device for listening to internal sounds of the human body with widespread use throughout medicine, particularly cardiology. Nevertheless, its potential for pathogenic contamination has largely gone unnoticed despite thorough evidence that stethoscopes can harbor pathogens capable of transmission to patients upon contact. Increased infection control vigilance during the COVID-19 pandemic, including toward the stethoscope, is evidenced by a recent increase in literature highlighting stethoscope hygiene/contamination.

Providers should anticipate further scientific evidence, hygiene performance and patient awareness regarding stethoscope contamination in the post-COVID-19 era. Going forward, the interests of the medical and legal community will overlap as stethoscope contamination garners awareness as a potential vector for infectious disease. Measures such as CDC guidelines or improved stethoscope hygiene should be implemented to ensure the health and safety of patients and make providers aware and accountable for the potential danger posed by the stethoscope. Click here to read the full original article:

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