A Simple Solution for a Complex Problem

By: Carolyn Cooper


Clinical Nurse Manager

I represent the Ottawa Heart Institute on the Board of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Patient Alumni. In this capacity, I am privileged to see first hand the difference the Patient Alumni make in the every day lives of our patients. I would like to share with you just one of many examples where the Patient Alumni is making an impact.

Earlier this year, the Critical Care Unit approached the Patient Alumni with a request to fund the purchase of a stethoscope for each patient bed. Each health care provider typically provides his or her own stethoscope, which they use on each patient under their care. They are supposed to be cleaned after each use, but sometimes emergency circumstances make this impractical.

The Patient Alumni approved this request, because they believe in the Institute’s philosophy of personalized medicine. This philosophy means that patients not only receive individualized care, they also are provided with individualized medical equipment. There are several advantages to this approach.

“The complexity and illness of patients being admitted to the CCU is increasing. With growing frequency we are admitting patients with more severe illnesses such as shock, post-resuscitation and heart failure,” explained Dr Benjamin Chow, Staff Cardiologist and Director of Cardiac Imaging.

“These patients are often ventilated on lung machines, require dialysis, or have hemodynamic monitoring (catheters inserted for monitoring).” Dr. Chow explained that all of these conditions can put a patient at a greatly increased risk of infection.

Also, there are many antibiotic resistant bacteria that can have an impact upon the health of patients. The CCU wanted to ensure that these bacteria were not transmitted to patients. There is a reason that medical equipment is not shared, and there is a reason that physicians and health care workers are so conscious about the importance of hand washing.

Dr Chow felt that by simply having individualized stethoscopes dedicated to each patient bed, this could become part of the solution. Stethoscopes are critical to patient cardiac care, and although they are cleaned between patients, this protocol could be improved. By dedicating a stethoscope to each patient, it would minimize a potential source of infection, ensuring optimal patient care.

“Personally, I have seen a huge improvement in infection containment care since the introduction of this protocol,” stated Dr. Chow. “For example, several weekends ago, there were numerous patients identified as potential carriers of communicable infections. The patient dedicated stethoscopes provided by the Patient Alumni, ensure that each patient is now examined with a stethoscope used only for them, with no possibility of passing an infection onto others.”

“Marilyn Kendal, Clinical Manager, Coronary Care Unit & ECG deserves a huge Thank You for putting this plan into action,” noted Dr. Chow. He encourages the implementation of this protocol in other critical care units of the Ottawa Heart Institute, and even potentially on the wards.