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A doctor’s white lab coat is a symbol of professionalism for physicians and patients alike, but is it also a carrier of infectious disease? A recent publication by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) offers guidelines to reduce the risk of transmitting  healthcare-associated infections via clothing.

Prioritizing safety throughout all parts of the medical process is an important cause for patients, physicians, and all of us here at Schochor, Staton, Goldberg, and Cardea, P.A.. Despite doctors’ conscious efforts to keep their hands sanitized, the occurrence of healthcare–associated infections remains alarming. Experts are now pointing to clothing as a potentially dangerous vehicle in the transmission of infections from healthcare professional to patients.

The clothing of healthcare professionals often comes in close or direct contact with patients, and may become contaminated during the care process. Research shows that doctor’s white coats are frequently contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria, and accessories worn during exams such as wristwatches, neckties and scarves are potential carriers.

“While studies have demonstrated the clothing of health care personnel may have a role in transmission of pathogens, the role of clothing in passing infectious pathogens to patients has not yet been well established,” stated Dr. Gonzalo Bearman, lead author of the study and member of SHEA’s Guidelines Committee.

In effort to reduce the spread of infectious disease, SHEA researchers have offered strategies to improve safety, including having doctors remove their coats before coming in direct contact with patients and implementing a Bare Below the Elbows policy, effectively banning longsleeves and wrist accessories during clinical practice. SHEA hopes the continued study of the role of doctor’s clothing in transmitting infectious disease will yield more comprehensive safety practices.