Saturday, June 4, 2011
Should Doctors Wear White Coats?
A 1989 photograph from the Mass General Hospital shows surgeons in short sleeved white coats over their street clothes and in the early 20th Century the concept of cleanliness and antisepsis was starting to take hold in American medicine. Both doctors and nurses started donning white garb as a symbol of purity. The white coat took on more and more symbolic meaning and the "White Coat Ceremony", where medical students are allowed to don the formal long white coat, has even been a right of passage with graduation from Medical School.
For the past few years, the American Medical Association and other medical societies have debated if it is time for the white coat to be retired. A study of New York City doctors in 2004 showed their ties were a source of infectious microorganisms. The NIH in Britain barred ties, lab coats, jewelry on the hands and wrists and long fingernails because of infection. Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University showed bacteria from a white cotton lab coat can cause infection just minutes after touching skin. Another study reported that the majority of medical personnel change their lab coats less than once a week.
At this time there are no recommendations for doctors regarding wearing lab coats. I've not seen a good comparative study on the hazards (or benefits) of wearing the white coat. Are street clothes any more sanitary? Isn't the real issue hand washing and good hygiene from caregivers?
A number of surveys of patients show they "overwhelmingly" prefer their physicians to wear white coats. Patients seem to have more trust in and comfort with physicians who wear the coat. For many patients it is still a symbol of professionalism and good care and it helps them identify the physician.
So what do you think? Do you like your doctor in a white coat? Would you prefer regular street clothes? Physicians, do you still wear the white coat?
Posted by Toni Brayer, MD at 3:32 PM