|Year : 2018 | Volume
| Issue : 4 | Page : 285-286
To wear or not to wear: Is it time to return the borrowed white coat?
Department of Community Medicine, Dr. DY Patil Medical College, Hospital and Research Centre, Dr. DY Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune, Maharashtra, India
|Date of Web Publication||2-Aug-2018|
Department of Community Medicine, Dr. DY Patil Medical College, Hospital and Research Centre, Dr. DY Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune, Maharashtra
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|How to cite this article:|
Banerjee A. To wear or not to wear: Is it time to return the borrowed white coat?. Med J DY Patil Vidyapeeth 2018;11:285-6
Prior to the 19th century, doctors dressed in black clothes in keeping with the formal and serious nature of medical encounters. The patient's referral to the doctor was an act of desperation as medicine was primitive, most treatments were worthless, and the visit was often a precursor to death. In such solemn somber situations, black was appropriate for both physicians and priests.
In the 19th century, scientists working in lab coats commanded more trust and respect. The doctor was distrusted as a quack as modern medicine was yet to find its bearings. In an attempt to gain respectability, doctors borrowed the lab scientist's coat, which came to be known as the “apron.” Over the next century, miraculous advances in modern medicine elevated the physician from the pit to the pedestal next to God. The white coat halo around the healers became firmly established. The apron also had a strong placebo effect instilling cheer and confidence among both patients and doctors.
The era of antiseptic surgery fostered by Joseph Lister's contribution further elevated medicine from home remedies to bioscience with better survival outcomes. White garments of doctors and nurses became the new symbol of cleanliness and hygiene, replacing the dull black of an earlier era.
Rapid medical advances in the 20th century firmly established the doctor–patient relationship as a favorable interaction and the physician in a white coat became a symbol of modern medicine.
In the era of evidence-based medicine, what is the level of evidence of doctor's attire on the doctor–patient relationship? No randomized controlled studies have been done. Observational studies show that most patients prefer physicians to dress in formal attire rather than casually, for example, in jeans. Good dress sense has also shown to increase confidence in the doctor's competence., On the other hand, too much formal attire on the doctor's part may increase the doctor–patient communication gap as patients may perceive the doctor to be less approachable.
The white apron of the doctor offers the middle path to reconcile this contradiction. The doctor's white coat serves to instill confidence and perceived competence and at the same time not too formal to distance the doctor from the patient.
However, in recent times, the worldwide tradition of doctors wearing white coat has become a subject of debate. Ironically, the doctor's white coat which after Lord Lister's era of antiseptic surgery symbolized cleanliness and hygiene has been attributed to contribute to nosocomial infections on the basis of studies demonstrating microbial growth in apron sleeves and pockets.
This concern is aggravated by the fact that aprons are laundered infrequently and can be a potential vehicle for spread of hospital infections. Studies have confirmed that many microorganisms detected on doctors' white coat are antibiotic resistant including the dreaded methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Such reports have led some countries to ban the doctor's white coat. The British Department of Health banned the white coat from hospitals in England, changing the dress code for doctors to “Noncoat bare-below-the-elbow policy, which facilitates thorough handwashing. The Ministry of Health of the United Arab Emirates has issued a notice decreeing that doctors should not wear their white coats outside the sterile medical facilities to cut the risk of nosocomial infections.
Besides the risk of hospital infections, aprons are losing prestige for aspiring doctors. Doctors who were raised from the pit to the pedestal during the heady days of medical discoveries appear to be falling from their haloed position. Progress is slowing, and medicine appears to have reached the limits of its potential. Much hyped new technologies such as the human genome project have only yielded modest results to date. Death is no longer accepted as the natural history of end of life in spite of the reality that all must die. Modern medicine tries to intervene on people during their last 6 months of life with poor outcomes and exorbitant cost. Many patients feel frustrated as realities do not match the high expectations fuelled by the media's coverage of “medical breakthroughs” which fail to deliver in the long run. These and other factors are eroding the doctor–patient relationship. Litigation and violence against doctors have become rather too common.
In these difficult times, medicos who were once proud of wearing their aprons on and off campus hesitate to wear them off campus. One medical student approached the author for guidance on a survey on whether “Medicos feel safe to wear aprons outside the hospital campus”?
For doctors, the wheel has come full circle. We borrowed the apron from the scientist in the lab to gain respectability which we got with advances in treatment and outcomes. Now, the progress has slowed down and doctors are losing the pride of place earned over the years. Most of the progresses are in medical instrumentation driven by advances in engineering and computer sciences, further marginalizing the doctor. Younger generations of doctors are rapidly losing history taking and clinical skills perfected by clinicians of an earlier era. Due to this, they are also losing the rapport with the patient (with or without apron).
Is it time to return the borrowed white coat?
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