Should Healthcare Uniforms Be Defined by Role?

We have noticed a trend among healthcare providers to standardize uniforms. In some cases, this standardization involves assigning uniforms based on worker roles. Is such standardization necessary? Perhaps that’s the case, if you take a 2014 study published by Becker's Hospital Review as gospel.

The study found that the majority of U.S. adults visiting hospitals has trouble distinguishing the roles of staff members based on uniforms alone. Furthermore, the study reported definite confusion among hospital visitors when they could not identify staff member roles.

Advocates of uniform standardization often cite the study as proof that the patient experience is less than optimal when facilities do not enforce uniform standards. They say that standardizing uniforms improves the patient experience.

More About the Study

The study in question was conducted in late 2014 and published in 2015. Conducted by Harris Poll Online, the point of the study was to better understand how easily people recognize health care staff member roles based on the uniforms being worn. Here's what they found out:

  1. 83% of patients have difficulty identifying health care workers in a hospital setting.

  2. 68% have difficulty identifying staff member roles in all health care settings.

  3. 64% assume that people wearing scrubs are members of the clinical staff.

That last statistic is rather surprising. But now that we know that scrubs are associated with clinical staff in the minds of patients, perhaps hospitals should rethink clothing requirements for nonclinical staff. Perhaps scrubs are not the best health care uniform for those workers.

Clinical Staff Uniforms

It is one thing to differentiate clinical and nonclinical staff by establishing different uniform requirements, but is it possible to distinguish different members of the clinical staff as well? And if so, should it be done? The data suggests a yes answer to both questions.

If it is true that patients have trouble distinguishing between clinical and nonclinical staff based on uniforms, it stands to reason that they would have similar difficulties distinguishing among different members of the clinical staff. If every clinician is wearing blue scrubs and carrying a stethoscope around the neck, how is the patient to determine if they are dealing with a doctor or nurse?

Facilities could make it easier on patients by establishing different uniform standards. For example, all doctors could wear white lab coats in addition to either scrubs or business casual attire. The lab coat would clearly identify the doctor as such.

Nurses could wear a particular color of scrubs that is consistent throughout the hospital. Technicians of all sorts could wear a different color entirely. And of course, support staff who work in close proximity with clinicians and technicians could wear completely different uniforms that look nothing like scrubs or lab coats.

Identification and the Patient Experience

Uniform standards in a healthcare setting might seem like an insignificant issue, but it’s not. The healthcare environment is already one that puts stress on patients. People seeking healthcare services are not well, and they are looking for any reason to feel better about their circumstances while at the hospital, the doctor’s office, and so on.

Standardizing uniforms makes it easier for patients to identify who they are dealing with. That goes a long way toward creating a positive patient experience that results in less stress and more confidence.

In an era in which healthcare is shifting from a fee-for-service model to one based on patient satisfaction, it makes sense to do whatever it takes to ensure patients are at ease. If uniform standardization can improve the experience, it makes sense to come up with a standardization policy.

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