A new study out of Geneva has a clear message for doctors: Time to be as careful about washing your stethoscope as you are about washing your hands. Researchers studied the amount of bacteria on stethoscopes' diaphragms—the piece that touches your skin—and the amount on doctors' hands, the Smithsonian reports. The experts found that there was actually more bacteria on the diaphragms than on any part of the hand except the fingertips. The study followed three doctors who donned new gloves and sterilized their stethoscopes between each of 33 patients.
Researchers also tested for the antibiotic-resistant bacterial strain MRSA between examinations of a separate 50 patients; those examinations were done without gloves. The strain was found on doctors' hands in 38 cases—and each time, the stethoscopes also carried the bacteria. "It may be time to have one stethoscope per patient, at least in ICUs, but this is impractical in a large hospital with many patients," a researcher tells the New York Times. "It’s embarrassing, because we don’t have any guidelines." Meanwhile, another study says a fifth of hospitals aren't well-stocked with hand sanitizer. (Read more stethoscope stories.)