In an informal survey in our hospital, only two out of 30 medical students said that they actually thought about their dress when caring for hospitalized patients. Yet, over half of the medical students we spoke to agreed that what they wear is likely to influence patient opinions about their doctors. This illustrates a larger discrepancy between what doctors ought to wear and what they do wear – one that may arise from competing concerns or lack of guidance.
Just like the treatment doctors provide, that guidance should be grounded in evidence. For instance, a special report from infection-prevention experts found little evidence that germs on male doctors’ neckties, long sleeves, or white coats actually spread infections in a nonsurgical setting. So bans on such garments, such as those in place in some countries, may go too far.
Patients Really Like White Coats
We recently published a study reviewing all available evidence regarding patient preferences for physician attire. We examined more than 30 studies that evaluated how patients viewed physicians’ attire.
In 21 of those studies, we found that patients had strong preferences about what physicians wore. And it looks like patients more often prefer for their doctors to wear formal clothing and white lab coats than not. Indeed, in 18 of the studies we reviewed, patients had a preference or positive association with this style of attire.
But as we reviewed these studies, three keys themes that suggest important variations in what patients may prefer their doctors to wear emerged. First, studies involving older patients or those from Europe or Asia all reported higher satisfaction when physicians wore formal attire.