The stethoscope is traditionally worn around the neck, but this causes problems for a number of reasons. While the modern stethoscope has been around for over 40 years, there has been surprisingly little innovation in the way that medical practitioners store their stethoscopes when not in use. Recently, however, this has begun to change. A spate of innovative stethoscope holsters are freeing nurses and doctors from the issues that develop from draping the diagnostic tool around the neck for many hours at a time.
While stethoscopes aren’t particularly heavy—modern models weigh around 8 ounces—any weight wrapped around the neck of a nurse or doctor adds substantial stress to an already stressful job. In fact, wearing a stethoscope around the neck for a full shift day in and day out has been known to result in poor posture and headaches. What’s more, nurses can already expect to do some heavy lifting throughout the day as they transfer and reposition patients. Unfortunately, they’re already at high risk for developing serious back injuries. Nurses often find themselves leaning over paperwork for hours on end, which only exacerbates the problem.
According to research published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, stethoscopes may harbor dangerous bacteria, such as antibiotic-resistant MSRA. Researchers found that bacteria move from a patient’s skin to the stethoscope’s chestpiece, where it quickly multiplies. Bacteria has been found on stethoscope tubing as well. Nurses and doctors who carry their stethoscopes around their neck may become vectors of disease themselves if their own skin is host to dangerous bacteria. Additionally, such close proximity to mucous membranes can place medical personnel at risk themselves.
What’s more, when a stethoscope is draped around the neck, a nurse or doctor can inadvertently infect it simply by coughing or sneezing. Once the medical practitioner places the infected stethoscope on a patient’s skin, bacteria can readily multiply, and the entire cycle begins anew. According to Dr. Charles Cutler of the American College of Physicians Board of Regents, doctors don’t always wash their hands after examining a patient and before examining the next. Cutler emphasizes the fact that it’s very easy for doctors to forget to douse their stethoscopes between patients, especially in the ER.
Finally, when the stethoscope is draped around the neck for an entire shift, its ear tips are constantly exposed to air that may well be laced with infectious organisms. While not likely to cause illness on its own, such exposure can increase the likelihood of medical personnel developing ear infections over time.
Stethoscope holsters such as the Scopester, the Lotus Stethoscope Holder and the Prestige Medical Hip Clip Stethoscope Holder alleviate neck strain and minimize the risk of bacterial contamination. These devices are typically made of easy-to-clean plastic and feature two spring-powered jaws. The jaws are biased to the closed position, meaning that once the user places the stethoscope within, they will stay firmly closed. The user must pull the jaws apart to remove the stethoscope. Most of these holsters adhere to the pants and hang from the hip, while some are designed for scrubs.