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Patients Prefer White Coats on Doctors

Are Coats Uncomfortable Germ Carriers or Sign of Professionalism?
WebMD Health News

May 12, 2004 -- Doctors don't like traditional white coats. They call them uncomfortable -- germ carriers. But most patients prefer their doctors to wear them, a new study shows.

It's an often-disputed problem -- somewhat resolved by this new British survey.

Since 1991, fewer and fewer London doctors have been wearing the traditional doctor's white coat -- especially among younger doctors, writes researcher J. Douse, MD, with the Royal Free and UCL Medical School in London.

"Although medical opinion in London is changing away from the white coat, others feel they still have a positive role," writes Douse. He quotes an Australian doctor: "The time might be right to rediscover the white coat as a symbol of our purpose and pride as a profession."

Douse's study involved 86 doctors and 400 patients -- all who completed questionnaires. Both patients and doctors were asked: "Do you think doctors should wear white coats?" and were allowed to explain their answers.

When the results were tallied:

  • 56% of patients voted for coats.
  • Patients over age 70 -- and those patients whose doctors already wore coats - preferred when doctors wore white coats.

  • Patients that preferred to see doctors wear white coats cited the most common reason as ease of identifying doctors. Less than 1% of patients thought coats were germ carriers.

Doctors' answers:

  • 24% wanted coats.
  • 13% wore coats.

  • 70% felt they were an infection risk.

  • 60% said they were uncomfortable.

"Patients want to be able to identify their doctors and see the white coat as a means of achieving this," writes Douse.

The researchers say that further studies are needed to determine whether doctors dressed in white coats affect how patients view quality of care.

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