Do physicians need a dress code?

While most physicians are trained not to overemphasize their first impression of patients, especially when making diagnosis and treatment decisions, many rarely consider their own first impression on patients, according to an op-ed in The Conversation from two Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan faculty members, Vineet Chopra, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine, and Sanjay Saint, MD, professor of internal medicine.

Clothes have a lot to do with a physician's first impression. In an informal survey, more than half of 30 medical students agreed clothing is likely to influence patient perception of physicians, yet only two students said they have thought about their clothing when caring for patients, according to Drs. Chopra and Saint.

Studies have shown patients do care about physician dress, though context matters. In a meta-study of 30 studies on physician dress, 21 studies indicated patient preference. Eighteen of the studies pointed to formal clothing and white lab coats as the preferred mode of dress for physicians, especially by older patients, European patients and Asian patients, and especially in physician offices or outpatient settings. However, in the emergency department, surgical or intensive care setting, the studies show patients prefer scrubs.

Another study Drs. Chopra and Saint pointed to showed 30 percent of physicians prefer scrubs, casual dress or have no preference, while 60 percent believe white coats should be worn.

No clear standards exist, and few hospitals offer guidance, according to Drs. Chopra and Saint. Different environmental settings may affect patient choice, as would generational effects and familiarly, they wrote. To better assess this and offer physicians evidence-based guidance, they plan to launch a study of thousands of patients from the U.S., Italy, Switzerland and Japan.

In the meantime, they suggest physicians err on the side of caution and dress in formal attire in nonemergency and nonoperative settings, no matter the day of the week or the hour of business.


More articles on integration and physician issues:

What physicians want in a practice setting
3 physicians from America's tiniest towns talk patient relationships, rural practice and the state of healthcare
Mass. AG calls for better coordination of behavioral, mental healthcare

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