Patient Preferences for Doctor Attire: The White Coat's Place in the Medical Profession

June 17, 2020

The white coat's place in the medical profession is a heavily debated topic. Five years after the bare-below-the-elbow policy took effect in England, we reexamined the evidence about coats' potential to transmit infection, reviewed previous studies, and explored our patients' opinions on doctor attire.

We administered a survey at 3 locations in the Ochsner Health System (hospital clinic, satellite clinic, and inpatient ward) in 2013. The survey assessed patient preference for doctors to wear white coats and included 4 images of the same doctor in different attire: traditional white coat, bare-below-the-elbow attire, a white coat with scrubs, and scrubs alone. Respondents rated images head-to-head for their preferences and individually for their confidence in the physician's skills and for their comfort level with the physician based upon the displayed attire. Participants' attitudes were then reassessed after they were given information about potential disease transmission.

Overall, 69.9% of the 153 patients surveyed preferred doctors to wear white coats. When locations were compared, a statistically higher proportion of outpatients preferred coats (P=0.001), a trend most pronounced between hospital clinic (84%) and ward inpatients (51.9%). Patients disliked bare-below-the-elbow attire, scoring it lowest on the comfort and confidence scales (0.05 and 0.09, respectively). Information regarding risks of coat-carried infections did not influence respondents' opinions; 86.9% would still feel comfortable with a doctor who wore one.

These findings suggest patients prefer white coats, and they contribute to greater comfort and confidence in their physicians, despite knowledge of theoretic concerns of disease transmission.

Clothing; infection control–methods; patient preference–psychology; patient preference–statistics & numerical data; physician-patient relations; physicians–standards


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