A recent article in a major newspaper asked why physicians still wear white coats. The theme echoed many recent stories of bacterial contamination of clothing and other inanimate objects. [For more on this subject, click on the "Infection" label on the right next to this post.]
It also brought to mind a controversial rule instituted by the UK’s National Health Service in 2008 that all medical and nursing staff could not wear ties or white coats and had to have arms “bare below the elbow.”
Despite published papers reporting the existence of bacteria on white coats and ties, the UK policy was not based on any evidence linking coats, ties or long sleeves to transmission of infection to patients.
The subject has been debated for years. Yes, the white coat may be contaminated with bacteria. But whatever one wears may also be contaminated. What is the difference between wearing a white coat for few days and wearing a suit jacket or a pair of pants for a few days?
I wear a white coat for the following reasons:
- It has a lot of pockets
- It protects my clothes from blood, vomit, pus and poop.
- It is easy to clean.
- It is laundered by my hospital.
I change it at regular intervals, usually amounting to fewer than 5 days. I doubt very much that doctors who don’t wear white coats have their suits, sport coats or pants dry cleaned that frequently.
Taking advantage of the adverse publicity about ties, I have stopped wearing them because it’s more comfortable rather than for an unsupported notion of an infection risk for patients.
More importantly, I wash my hands or use a gel quite often.
Do you wear a white coat? Why or why not?
A version of this was posted on Sermo yesterday. A majority of those few who commented say they do still wear white coats.