Since the emergence of the currently scientifically accepted germ theory of disease, experts have agreed that pathogens spread most efficiently via touch. This is why there is a central focus on hand hygiene to prevent transmission, especially in medical settings where healthcare-associated infection (HAI) is a major concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires that healthcare personnel perform hand hygiene immediately before and after touching a patient. 

Credit: AseptiScope®. The DiskCover®

Over the past decade, medical research has consistently demonstrated that the most relied upon medical device, the stethoscope, has the same contamination, and transmission as unwashed hands, undermining hand hygiene efforts in healthcare delivery. In fact, the stethoscope is increasingly referred to as “the clinician’s third hand”. Astute infection control efforts to integrate stethoscope hygiene practices found that alcohol cleaning falls dramatically short of accomplishing the job. The prolific rate of stethoscope contact use in all areas of medicine may explain why, despite stringent hand hygiene efforts, HAI still plagues modern healthcare delivery, contributing to a loss of over 100,000 US patient lives, and over $40 billion annually, according to government statistics.  

As data has mounted experts have called for action. In recent weeks, the CDC announced the new 2024 guidelines to prevent transmission of pathogens in the healthcare setting. The new guideline categorizes the stethoscope as a vector that transmits by touch and states the need for hygiene before all patient exams. For those charged with patient safety and infection control, the integration of protocols for stethoscope hygiene is important, and ensuring compliance among busy care providers requires experts to integrate solutions that protect patients but are easy for busy workflow healthcare delivery. 

In Memphis Tennessee, The Veterans Affairs Medical Center is integrating newly available technology that automatically places a clean barrier or “disk cover” between the stethoscope and the patient prior to each exam. Naomi Ragsdale, a nurse, and infection control expert, identified this technology and led its integration into the intensive care setting. “The DiskCover System® has made stethoscope cleanliness uncomplicated and transparent for our ICU. We are able to monitor usage and have peace of mind knowing the compliance of our staff is on par with our hygiene goals, which in turn decreases the risk for a hospital-acquired infection,” stated Ragsdale.  

The solution is developed by a California innovation company, AseptiScope®. The DiskCover® System actually breaks transmission of pathogens by eliminating direct patient contact with the stethoscope. The compact, sensor based dispensing system integrates into hand hygiene stations and applies a medical grade barrier, or disk cover, in about a second. Controlled studies demonstrating its ability to shield patients from pathogens are part of a growing body of evidence in medical literature. 

According to AseptiScope Co-Founder and CEO Scott Westhaver Mader, the DiskCover System is the result of an innovation process he calls “market-driven science.” Mader and his team have refined the process across his 30-year career of introducing novel biopharmaceutics, diagnostic tests, and medical devices into the standard of care in healthcare and other clinical settings. Once a clinical problem is identified, a list of attributes that resolve the problem is derived from research data, clinical expert engagement, user groups, and feasibility studies. “The process led to a touch-free solution that breaks transmission immediately, with no formal training required” explains Mader. 

In the past six months, AseptiScope has been actively manufacturing, shipping, and installing the DiskCover System in the US, and the technology has been well-received. The company boasts a significant online clinical library of medical publications on product performance and efficacy. One such journal publication shows that over 95% of clinical users believed the system would improve workflow, compliance, and patient safety. As AseptiScope launches its technology, it is now being utilized by healthcare providers in outpatient clinics, cancer centers, and even large hospital systems such as the University of California, San Diego Health.  

“I really see technology playing a huge role in our ability to resolve this challenge,” says Kathleen Vollman, the President of the World Federation of Critical Care Nurses. “The CDC now recognizes the stethoscope as a significant vector for disease transmission, and we need innovation that will make it easy for busy clinicians to do the right thing. Cleaning stethoscopes with alcohol between patients takes too long and is not against some of the most concerning pathogens.” Vollman, a clinician herself, sees multiple advantages. “You can hear perfectly through the barrier, which matters because the stethoscope is particularly valuable in vulnerable patient populations in the hospital, cancer clinics, skilled nursing, and virtually everywhere healthcare is delivered.”  

“Cancer patients are more susceptible to infection due to their course of treatment, stethoscope exams, and routine in patient assessment,” said Gerardo Midence, MD, an oncologist at the St. Joseph Cancer Center in Lewiston, Idaho. “We evaluated The DiskCover System and found it useful, practical, and functional. Importantly, it makes stethoscope hygiene more reliable and timely.” St. Joseph’s joins a growing body of cancer care centers that are integrating stethoscope hygiene into their infection control protocols. 

The new CDC guidance will be reinforced by accrediting bodies like the National Committee for Quality Assurance Nonprofit (NCQA) and The Joint Commission. Protecting patients is the goal, and healthcare providers will move to integrate stethoscope hygiene practices for certification, reimbursement, and provider status. For this reason, the DiskCover System captures data showing hygiene practice patterns. 

Mader credits healthcare providers for the rapid acceptance of the DiskCover System. “Our customers find the technology easy to use, uniquely effective, and workflow compatible. AseptiScope becomes a part of the solution by listening to healthcare providers and designing innovations on that basis,” he says.  

​​The Information related to AseptiScope and The DiskCover System is for general informational purposes only. All information and commentary from clinical professionals is provided in good faith; however, there is no representation or warranty, express or implied. This story does not contain medical advice. The information is provided for general information only and is not a substitute for medical advice. 

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