By Josephine Reid
A debate is raging among doctors about whether to abandon white lab coats, The Boston Globe reports. Those who want to get rid of the staple lab coat argue that the garments may spread germs, whereas others say the traditional white coats are harmless and inspire trust in patients. No research has shown that lab coats are more likely to collect germs and spread infections than any other clothing.
However, the long sleeves may be prone to dragging against contaminated objects, and a survey found that most doctors rarely wash their coats. Britain’s National Health Service organized a “bare below the arms” dress policy in 2008, and in 2009 one Virginia hospital started encouraging its doctors to get rid of their lab coats and find an alternative to adorn their uniform scrubs.
According to Dr. Philip Lederer, he believes the white coat is a germ magnet, one that can carry deadly infections from one patient to another. The crisp white coat has long been worn to symbolize a profession as well as purity and cleanliness. But some studies show the coats are full of 'microbes' picked up in patient rooms. A number of studies have shown that the coats have potentially harmful bacteria and may cause 'white coat hypertension' (a condition in which people experience high blood pressure only when they visit the doctor's office). This leads one to wonder if coats present all these issues, why do doctors still wear them?
Doctors today are divided on the white-coat question.Supporters say the coat instills doctors with a humbling sense of responsibility and puts patients at ease, while others see it as an alienating symbol of medical confidence.
More than 100 medical schools host white coat ceremonies where first-year med students are awarded shortened versions of the white coat, and the coats are everywhere at large teaching hospitals where they help differentiate between doctors and students. However, doctors in smaller hospitals and private practice are more likely to wear regular clothes. A recent study suggests that only 1 in 8 doctors actually wear a white coat at work.