Hospitalist Invention Aims for Infection Prevention


Stethoscopes can be magnets for infectious agents. As many as 1 in 3 stethoscopes used in EDs carry methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (Prehospital Emergency Care. 2009;13:71-74). Cleaning them with alcohol rubs can be cumbersome, however, and the alcohol doesn’t kill such infections as Clostridium difficile, which is common in hospitals and causes colitis, says Richard Ma, MD, chair of hospital medicine at Saints Memorial Medical Center in Lowell, Mass.

“Being a hospitalist, I see a lot around me that is wasteful and inefficient,” Dr. Ma says. Four years ago, he set out to create a product that would protect against C. diff, and that would meet the challenge of keeping the neck, as well as the business end, of the stethoscope clean.

The solution: a disposable, lightweight, slip-on cover about 12 inches in length, which resembles the transparent plastic bags on rollers found in supermarket produce departments. The cover has a built-in, V-shaped seal into which the stethoscope tip is wedged. Dr. Ma plans to distribute his recently patented invention, called the Stethguard, at Saints, where all staff will be trained in its use, and to other hospitals in the state. He also hopes to license it to a medical supply distributor for wider distribution. He says it only costs pennies per bag, even less when mass-produced.

Demand for the Stethguard could be aided by the current national focus on preventing hospital-acquired infections. But will hospitalists embrace his invention? Perhaps not, Dr. Ma says, given that many doctors resist washing their hands before entering patients’ rooms. But if his idea catches on, consumers will eventually learn to demand it, he adds.

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