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Personal protective equipment for your stethoscope

One inventive Massachusetts physician has come up with a way to protect patients from bacteria on the most common medical equipment found slung around the necks of doctors and nurses.

Previously, Richard Ma, a physician at Saints Medical Center in Lowell, MA, had been putting a latex glove over the end of his stethoscope before examining a patient with a communicable disease, according to an article in The Boston Globe [1].

But the glove muffled the sound and was awkward to handle, according to Ma, so he invented the Stethguard – a long plastic tube-like sheath that fits over the end of the stethoscope and provides protection against infectious organism and prevents HAIs.

The protective sheath will be available throughout the hospital next to other traditional personal protective equipment like gowns, gloves, and masks, according to the article.

In the Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities, 2008 [2], the CDC recommends disinfecting noncritical medical patient care devices with EPA registered hospital disinfectants on a regular basis or when visibly soiled. For a patient on contact precautions, dedicated medical equipment should be available. If not, things like stethoscopes should be disinfected before using it on another patient.

But in reality, healthcare workers rarely take the time to clean stethoscopes, Ma told The Globe.

“The truth of the matter is that people don’t do it,” Ma told The Globe. “It’s never mentioned beyond medical school, and that’s where it stops.’”

Ma has actually paid for the first 100,000 Stethguard covers available in Saints Medical Center, so the first step will be to convince other staff members to use them. Infection control nurse Diane Maltais also plans to test the efficiency of the shields through bacterial cultures.

“We’ve found our stethoscopes to be a huge source of contamination,” Maltais told The Globe. “So I think he’s really onto something good. But it will be interesting to see everyone’s response to it. I’m curious to get them out.”