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Study shows paper medical records commonly harbor dangerous bacteria

New research shows that paper medical records can harbor bacteria which can sicken patients.
New research shows that paper medical records can harbor bacteria which can sicken patients.
Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images

A hospital study published Tuesday in the scientific journal PLOS ONE shows that paper medical charts carry germs that can cause patient infections.

The Taiwanese study covered 681 hospital wards, including medical, surgical, pediatric and obstetric-gynecologic wards along with corresponding special units like intensive care.

Medical records in general wards tested positive for bacteria 63.5 percent of the time, while 83.2 percent of special ward charts did.

The most common bacteria found on paper medical charts was Coagulase-negative staphylococci, found on more than 80 percent. This type of staph bacteria is commonly found on hands and can cause serious infections in immune-suppressed patients.

The study found that contamination was two to four times worse in special units such as the ICU - where the sickest patients stay - than in general units. They had a 9.3 percent incidence of contamination with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA, a type of staph bacteria that resist antibiotic treatments and which can turn into a flesh-eating infection.

The study authors note that previous analyses have found stethoscopes, white coats, keyboards, faucets, mobile phones, writing pens, case notes, medical charts and even wrist watches can harbor and spread dangerous bacteria.

The authors conclude that their research "highlights once again the importance of effective hand washing before and after handling medical charts, entering casenotes, touching patients and performing procedures, since effective hand washing is the best way to block the transmission of pathogens."