Time for a new health care dress code?

Does what your doctor wear endanger your health?


There's a debate brewing over whether attire is leading to cross contamination from patient to patient and raising the infection levels in hospitals and physician offices. The idea of ditching flagrant garb — like neckties and the iconic white coats — was floated in an article titled "Healthcare Personnel Attire in Non-Operating-Room Settings" in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology (no, I didn't read the article, but I did read about it in the New York Times!).

So what to do about the biggest culprits — the neckties and white coats?

We can dispense with neckties (they should go anyway — and many clinicians have favored bow ties instead to lessen the risk of cross contamination!). But the white coats play a helpful role in identifying who does what in the health care setting.

In fact, who is in the room with you, the patient, is a big issue. These days, more and more health care workers are wearing scrubs, the pajama-like uniforms that were once reserved just for the Operating Room. In some places, even cleaning staff wear scrubs.

Uniforms are important, but proper identification and introduction of staff is the real critical element. When every staff member walks into a patient's room, they should introduce themselves and clearly state why they are there and what they will be doing — in terms the patient can understand!

If we expect patients to be partners in their care, they need to know who they are partnering with — and why!