Why White Coats Should Be Optional
Would my white lab coat be better put to use when I carve the Christmas roast than when seeing patients?
After all, we know that these coats can be covered with pathogens, including drug-resistant ones, which may be transmitted to patients. They are cleaned infrequently: In a survey of physicians, nearly 58 percent said they laundered their white coats monthly or never. Less than 3 percent washed them daily or every other day. What is the harm in adopting a “bare below the elbows” policy for health care professionals — as has been done in the United Kingdom — to reduce the chance of transmission?
Philip Lederer, an infectious disease specialist in Boston, is one of the latest to argue that the white coat, long a symbol of the medical profession, ought to go the way of the nurse’s cap. On his informative and frequently entertaining White Coats website, he lays out a convincing case as to why we should voluntarily stop wearing white coats. While raising the infection risks, he points out that the coats are not solely the mark of physicians, but also physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses and other health care professionals. “White coats are so widely worn they no longer serve to identify who the doctors are. White coats do not make you a better clinician or improve your fund of knowledge. They’re just a habit. And I think they should be retired,” he writes. The Boston Globe recently picked up on his efforts and highlighted the issue, as did National Public Radio.