What Patients Really Think of That White Lab Coat

Hospitals in recent years have been working to phase out the white lab coats worn by doctors, NPs and PAs. As the thinking goes, lab coats can carry pathogens that make patients sick. Although there is scientific data to support such thinking, there are ways to address pathogens without eliminating lab coats. And besides, lab coats may make a difference in patient outcomes.

Believe it or not, study data shows that patients have very specific opinions about how hospital staff dress. Where white lab coats are concerned, those opinions tend to be strong. The data suggests that if patient outcomes are influenced by those patients’ perceptions of the doctors and nurses who treat them, perceptions of uniforms may also play a role in outcomes.

Perceptions, Satisfaction and Outcomes

A 2016 study published by BMJ Journals clearly shows what hospital patients think of several different types of hospital attire. The study involved 4,062 patients treated at 10 separate hospitals throughout the US. Researchers gathered data from June 1, 2015, through Oct. 31, 2016.

Patients were given study materials that included photographs of both male and female healthcare professionals dressed in seven different kinds of attire, ranging from casual to business attire. Every effort was made to eliminate the influence of lighting, facial expressions, model poses and other elements.

Furthermore, 14 different versions of the study material were created and distributed to participants in order to mitigate bias. Participants were asked to fill out questionnaires and rate their perceptions of each of the photographs. The researchers discovered two key things:

  1. Patients’ perceptions of knowledge, trustworthiness, quality of care and physician approachability were directly influenced by attire.
  2. Among the seven options, formal wear with a white lab coat was deemed by patients to be the most appropriate attire for doctors in hospitals except in surgical and ER settings.

The study clearly showed that patients believe it is important that doctors wear white lab coats atop professional clothing in the office and at the hospital. Extrapolating the data also indicated that the positive perceptions created by such professional attire make patients feel more satisfied and, consequently, may improve their outcomes.

Lab Coats and Pathogens

The study data makes it clear that hospitals should rethink the strategy of eliminating lab coats. But of course, there is the issue of pathogens and hospital infections. Such concerns cannot be ignored.

Earlier this month (February 2019) we published a blog post discussing a Medscape article that detailed study data showing how hospitals are not as clean as most people think. One of the studies cited in the article showed that pathogens are indeed carried throughout hospitals on staff uniforms. This is the very reason some hospitals are dispensing with lab coats.

May we suggest there is a better way? That better way is to rent hospital uniforms — including lab coats — from Alsco. Why rent from us? Because our cleaning processes and equipment can do what traditional commercial and residential washing machines cannot: produce hygienically clean uniforms.

Our cleaning processes don’t just remove visible dirt. They deep clean to remove those pathogens that can make patients sick. When our healthcare customers receive deliveries of clean and fresh uniforms, they do so with the confidence that what they are receiving is hygienically clean as well as being free of visible dirt and debris.

You do not have to get rid of lab coats to control pathogens. And now that you know what patients really think about lab coats, doesn’t it make sense to keep them? We think so.