White coats have long set physicians apart as medical authorities and figures of trust in health care settings. Adopted as standard apparel in the 1800’s, white coats identify individuals as healthcare providers, help them keep their clothes clean, and provide pockets to carry medical or personal items.
Carrying Dangerous Pathogens
New research has also proved that white coats can carry dangerous pathogens like Staphylococcus aureus and other bacteria—many of which have become resistant to antibiotics like erythromycin, penicillin, and others.
Picture this—a physician wears their white coat during the workday and it is typically laundered maybe once a week. The coat may go wherever the doctor goes, slung over an arm, on the back of a chair, and of course, while treating patient after patient.
During that time, microbes build up on the coat, typically on the lapel, in the pockets, on the collar, or anywhere a germ can hitch a ride. Wherever the coat goes, so do potentially dangerous healthcare-associated infectious agents. A white coat could contribute to the spread of resistant bacteria within a hospital or community setting.
The Results of the Study
A study from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston looked at whether communication between patients and their physicians would be impacted if physicians left their white coat home.
Published in the American Journal of Perinatology, the study found patient confidence in a physician was not diminished when their doctor was not wearing a white coat. Noted one investigator, “Actually, 40 percent of the patients couldn’t remember if their physicians were wearing white coats or not.”
While this was a small study conducted in one hospital, it offers an opening to physicians to leave the coat in the closet and potentially share a few less germs—inside and outside of the hospital.
Healthcare-association infections (HAIs) are a serious issue in American healthcare. Patients already vulnerable through injury or illness can suffer devastating or fatal infection if environmental hygiene tips the scale toward contamination. In addition to reviewing the practice of wearing white coats or ensuring they are cleaned routinely, physicians can reduce their chances of infecting others by:
- Remaining bare below the elbows
- Limiting unnecessary apparel like neckties
- Laundering clothing in hot water often
- Sanitizing equipment used with patients (like a stethoscope) between patients
- Cleaning items like jewelry, cell phones, and identification tags on a routine basis
White coat syndrome may do more than raise your blood pressure. If you or a loved one contract a serious infection while hospitalized, talk to an experienced attorney about your injury.
Medical Malpractice Lawyers Assisting with Compensation after Medical Negligence
In Baltimore, Washington D.C, or across the country, Schochor, Staton, Goldberg, and Cardea, P.A. delivers experienced, compassionate legal representation for hospital-acquired infection to individuals and families who suffer medical malpractice. Contact us today or call 410-234-1000 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your situation.