Your stethoscope is likely your most used tool, but do you treat it with the respect it is due to that status? A writer often takes their favorite pens for granted until they can no longer find them. So too can a nurse, doctor, or other healthcare professional take for granted their stethoscope. If you don’t want to learn the hard way just how reliant you are on this tool of your profession, take care of it now with some basic daily maintenance.
Daily maintenance isn’t just about making your stethoscope last longer. Many research studies have found that stethoscopes are one of the primary ways that germs, infections, and other contaminations occur in hospital or clinic settings.
Disinfecting the pieces that come in direct contact with your clients between patients is very important, but few professionals take the time to completely disinfect the entire apparatus between patients. It simply isn’t practical.
Here are five things you can do on a regular basis to make sure your stethoscope lasts as long as possible.
Disinfect the entire stethoscope daily
Every piece of your stethoscope can be safely cleaned with isopropyl alcohol. Most medical professionals sanitize the bell between each patient, but the rest of the stethoscope is typically ignored throughout the busy day. At the end of your shift, you should give the whole shebang a really good disinfecting cleanse.
Using 70% isopropyl alcohol wipes is a great way to make sure that you get all parts wiped down without the need to submerge it. (In fact, you should never submerge your stethoscope.) Do not try to use hand sanitizer instead. It might seem like it would work in a pinch, but added fragrances and oils could break down the ear pieces and tubing of the stethoscope.
And, when in doubt, it can help to invest in some reusable stethoscope covers as well. These antimicrobial and antibacterial chestpiece covers are disposable and sanitary.
Cleaning the diaphragm and ear pieces
While most people don’t have the occasion to completely dismantle and clean their stethoscope on a daily basis, it should still be done fairly regularly. You can remove the diaphragm from the chest piece by pinching the rim and pulling it away from the bell chest piece. The ear tips can be pulled firmly off of the head piece, and pushed back on in the same way. You should also take this opportunity to clean the stethoscope tubing. You can use the same 70% isopropyl alcohol solution or wipes, or you can use a mild soapy water if warranted.
Dry the stethoscope completely before assembling or storing
Make sure that all pieces are completely dry before reassembling. Trapped moisture can decrease the accuracy as well as present an opportunity for bacterial growth. Keep in mind that water will take much longer to dry than alcohol wipes. The higher alcohol percentage the faster the pieces will dry. If you use 93% isopropyl alcohol, you can leave it to air dry for only a few minutes before reassembling.
Store in a case to protect against sun and elements
Storing your stethoscope in a high quality case only makes sense. An artful woodworker would keep their tools in a protective case, and so should you. Using the case or box that your stethoscope came in might be the easiest option, but if you want to be able to carry it on-the-go, look for a travel case that you can throw in your work bag.
Know when it's time to replace your stethoscope
If you have already started having issues with the quality of your stethoscope, you may have waited too long to clean and maintain it. If you go to pull it apart and there is caked dust or grime, you probably need to just start over. Submerging the stethoscope will only ruin it further. If the tubing is gummy or your alcohol wipes are coming away dark, it may be time to purchase a new stethoscope altogether.
After all, knowing when to replace your stethoscope is just as valuable as knowing how to maintain it.