A Stethoscope is an integral part of the healthcare field. It is an instrument used in the detection, or auscultation of heart and body sounds. The primary sounds in the body this instrument detects are in the lungs, intestinal tract and heart. It can also be used for assessing the blood flow inside of the peripheral blood vessels in the body and in developing fetuses of a woman in her pregnancy.
Doctors and other health professionals can come across many patients in a day’s work. Yet many do not stop to take the time to clean this instrument between patients. Sometimes stethoscopes must be used on bare skin, and therefore, this makes cleaning the instrument that much more important. It is easy to spread bacteria from person to person with an inanimate object such as a stethoscope, so to learn how to take care of your stethoscope the right way and clean the instrument properly, certain steps should be taken to prevent the spread of germs and microbes.
Stethoscopes are made of different materials, so it is important that each part be cleaned by the agent meant for the corresponding piece. Another note is that the whole stethoscope itself should never be immersed fully in any type of liquid whatsoever, since this may ruin it altogether.
The tubing of the stethoscope is usually made of PVC. To clean this part, it is best to take a rag or a paper towel and soak it with warm soapy water. Wipe down the tubing with this, and use a warm wet cloth to rinse the soap off. Dry thoroughly with a dry cloth. Using anything other than warm soapy water to wash the tubing with, such as rubbing alcohol can affect the material of the tubing and cause stickiness on the outside of the PVC.
The next order of cleaning will involve the chestpiece, or the diaphragm which is at the end of the stethoscope and is the piece placed against the patient. To clean this area, a cotton ball soaked in 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol or using alcohol pads soaked with the same concentration should be used to wipe the entire piece. It should remain wet and not be wiped away, with the alcohol remaining on the chestpiece for at least 10 seconds. The areas that seem harder to reach should definitely be wiped with a cotton ball to make sure the solution is reaching all areas, such as the stem.
The headset, which contains the two metal pieces that connect to the eartips, may also be cleaned with a cotton ball soaked in the previously mentioned concentration of alcohol preparation solution, or with alcohol pads. Wipe each separately in an upwards motion. These can be dried if necessary.
The eartips of the stethoscope can get dirty very quickly, and this is true of many people with excessive wax buildup in their ears. Cleaning the eartips of the stethoscope may be performed using a cotton swap soaked in rubbing alcohol solution. The eartips on the instrument are removable, so it is possible to clean them underneath as well. They do not need to be taken off every time you clean them, but every so often it is wise to pop them off and do a good cleaning under them with a cotton ball and alcohol solution to keep them at their very best condition.
Cleaning your stethoscope is not only helpful for you as a professional, but also to your patients in the long run, as you will be saving the spread of any possible bacteria to your potential patients and helping to protect their health and happiness.
There are a few instances where stethoscopes may come into contact with extremely infectious patients or other contaminants. In those instances, regular cleaning will not suffice. The instrument must then be sterilized before it can be used again. To properly sterilize, the instrument must be sent to a hospital’s special sterilization center where low temperature gases are used in a special chamber to complete the process without damaging any equipment. Many pieces of equipment are bagged and sealed with sterilization tape. When the sterilization procedure is complete, the tape will have turned a different color, indicating the process is successful and the equipment is now safe to use.
Extreme temperatures can affect stethoscopes as well, causing irreversible damage. These instruments should never be stored in cars with extreme hot or cold temperatures. This may cause tubing to become warped, thus rendering the stethoscope unusable. Unstable temperatures may also leave tubing vulnerable to cracking. It is also not recommended to leave a stethoscope in a hanging position for long periods of time as this affects the tubing as well.
Storing your stethoscope in a bag made especially for one, out of light, away from extreme temperatures and using proper cleaning techniques is your best bet to prolonging the life of your stethoscope.