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Examiner
  • Dr. Murray Feingold: Stethoscopes reveal dark side

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  • The stethoscope is a symbol that is frequently used to represent medicine. Even with present-day technology, the stethoscope remains a constant, still being used daily by doctors and nurses.
    Young doctors proudly have their stethoscope gently peaking out of the pocket of their white coats, signifying that they are now physicians.
    The stethoscope was invented in 1816 by Rene Laennec in France. Its purpose was to improve the doctors ability to hear what was taking place in the body, mainly the heart and lungs.
    The stethoscope has withstood the test of time. Yes, many patients have objected to the coldness of the stethoscope, prompting the use of various types of stethoscope “warmers.” However, the majority of stethoscopes used today still do not contain such warming components.
    To make them more user-friendly, pediatricians would add cute little fuzzy animals to their stethoscopes as they listen to the heart sounds of their anxious 3-year-old patients.
    However, studies started appearing that revealed a darker side to this exalted and noble instrument — the presence of bacteria.
    A very recent study substantiated prior findings — our beloved stethoscopes are contaminated with various types of bacteria. In this study, the stethoscope, including the diaphragm or bell, which is placed on the patient’s skin, and the tubing of the stethoscope, were examined for bacteria. After the doctor completed his or her patient examination, cultures were taken from the stethoscope to determine the presence of bacteria. Results showed that a significant amount of bacteria was present on the diaphragm and tubing of the stethoscope.
    Not only that, prior studies have shown that the cute little animals that adorned the stethoscope also were guilty of harboring bacteria.
    These findings should not come as a surprise, since the stethoscope is in contact with many contaminated objects and sick patients who are infected with various types of bacteria.
    But the stethoscope is not really the culprit. It is still doing its job. The presence of bacteria doesn’t stop it from allowing the doctor or nurse to still hear the heart beating or the lungs wheezing.
    It is the responsibility of the possessor of the stethoscope to keep it clean and make certain that it is decontaminated after its use. That means, doctors need to not only wash their hands after each patient, but they also need to clean their stethoscopes.
    Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.

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