The 5 germiest things in a doctor’s office

By Alistair Gardiner
Published July 13, 2021

Key Takeaways

Most doctors spend at least 40 hours per week—and sometimes much more than that—in the clinic or hospital. We hear a lot about the deleterious mental health effects of spending too much time at work, but there’s less discussion about how it can affect your physical well-being.

Beyond the inherent risks and challenges of a clinical setting—ubiquitous sharps and surgical tools, impatient patients, and even noxious fumes and drugs—lies another foe: germs.

According to research, you can find 46,000 times more bacteria on your clipboard pen than on an average toilet seat. The door handles in clinics are particularly prone to transmitting germs, with sick people handling them all day—and they tend to be overlooked when sanitizing rooms between patients. Viruses, the most frequently found pathogens on these surfaces, can hang around for up to 48 hours.  

This is especially concerning when you consider a point made by authors of a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH): “The emergence of bacterial infection in humans is increasing,” and a primary cause of such epidemics is “the bio-contamination of surfaces of various items and equipment used by the public.” As many as 86% of individuals carry bacteria back into their homes via their hands, the authors found.

So how can you make sure your clinic is not a breeding ground for pathogens? Let’s have a look at five of the germiest places in your work setting.


Many doctors report spending two hours in the electronic medical record for every hour they spend with a patient. The result? Tons of time typing away in front of the computer. According to a review published in BMJ Open, this likely means you’re picking up plenty of microbial contamination from your keyboard.

The review looked at 75 studies that focused on bacterial and viral contamination from computer devices in healthcare settings, along with the efficacy of disinfection interventions. Authors found that rates of contamination detailed in the studies ranged from 24%-100%, and concluded that computer keyboards are “frequently contaminated.” Microbial contaminants found on keyboards included methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE), and Escherichia coli (E. coli).


This iconic medical apparatus may be one of your most commonly used tools, but it’s also a breeding ground for pathogens.

A review, published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, found that stethoscopes are “consistently shown to harbor bacteria.” After analyzing 28 studies, authors found that the average rate of stethoscope contamination was 85%. While the majority of the bacteria discovered were nonpathogenic, studies included in the review found some stethoscopes contaminated with MRSA, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, VRE, and C. difficile.

Another study, published in PLOS One this year, concluded that this issue is a difficult one to correct. Among a cohort of 100 doctors and nurses, researchers measured the rate of pathogen contamination on clinicians’ stethoscopes both before and after an educational intervention on disinfection procedures. “Most of the stethoscopes were contaminated with microorganisms before and after the intervention (97.9% and 91.5%, respectively). The contamination rate of stethoscopes with nosocomial pathogens before and after education was 20.8% and 19.2%, respectively,” the authors wrote. 

Cell phones

Do you ever wash your hands and then immediately start using your cell phone? If you do, you’re probably re-contaminating your hands with microbes, according to the aforementioned study in IJERPH.

In the study, researchers found bacteria on 92% of cell phones, with the most common contaminant being Staphylococcus epidermidis. They noted that various studies have found high rates of microbial contamination of cell phones, with bacteria that include S. aureus, E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter spp., Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Streptococcus faecium, and Bacillus cereus

Contamination of cell phones most commonly occurs via unclean hands, but also through contact with purses/bags, pockets, cases, and placing them on surfaces.

White coat

If you wear the same attire every day—ie, think "white coat"—that attire may be consistently transmitting pathogens, including multidrug-resistant organisms, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research.

Researchers analyzed the bacterial contamination of the white coats of 100 medical students working in various specialties in a tertiary care hospital. Despite the fact that most of the coats had been washed within the past 2 weeks, they were usually contaminated, with the sides of the coat typically the most contaminated area, followed by the collar and pockets. S. aureus was the most commonly found contaminant, and researchers noted that most of the pathogens found were resistant to penicillin, erythromycin, and clindamycin. 

Likewise, a review published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology looked at 72 studies and found that up to 16% tested positive for MRSA and up to 42% for the bacterial class Gram-negative rods.  

Door handles

Perhaps the most obvious one on the list, door handles are a prime spot for the transmission of microbial bacteria. A study published in the American Journal of Infection Control used a harmless viral tracer to track the transmission rate of a patient room door handle, with researchers testing staff and patient hands and various surfaces after 2, 3.5, and 6 hours. They found that the viral tracer could be detected on all surfaces and hands after just 2 hours.

What can you do about it?

One of the most powerful ways to prevent transmission and infection is knowing where they start. Hopefully, this list helps you gain a better understanding of that process. Beyond that, though, germ control is an exercise in habitual hygiene—a point painstakingly driven home by COVID-19. Keep your hands clean by frequent handwashing with soap and water, and generous use of hand sanitizer.

When it comes to equipment, anything that touches a patient, like stethoscopes, should also be decontaminated prior to seeing the next patient. The authors of the aforementioned Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research study concluded that new white coats should be purchased once a year, every doctor should always own two at any one time, and that coats should be cleaned thoroughly on a regular basis. 

Finally: This goes without saying, but please stop taking your cell phone to the toilet with you!

Learn more about germs lurking in other places, like your home, at MDLinx.

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