There are quite a few small (but not minor) details that need to be acknowledged in order to create the perfect experience for the patient. The white coat issue is one of them. Should a dentist wear a white coat? Will it make them seem cold or distant? Research indicates that most healthcare practitioners can gain from wearing a white coat. The white coat is symbolically powerful and it has a long history. If you are wondering whether you should wear a white coat or not, here are some things to consider:
- Clothes Change People – A Northwestern University study has shown that wearing a white coat improves the cognitive processing of the wearer. In the study, those wearing white coats made almost half as many errors as those wearing regular clothes. This cognitive improvement will show itself in the doctor’s performance, leading to better trust and appreciation from the patient in the long run.
- A White Coat Will Make You Seem More Competent – Another study indicates 70% percent of patients prefer their doctor wear a white coat, as the doctor’s competence is perceived to be higher when they do so. 74% of participants said they would feel confident with a doctor wearing a white coat, while only 52% said they’d feel confident with a doctor wearing only scrubs.
- Increased Sense of Trust – Some studies have found that doctors wearing white coats are seen as more trustworthy. This has major implications in the doctor-patient relationship where trust is key. This trust enables the doctor to learn more about the patient’s unique situation and to suggest treatment options patients are more likely to consider. Again, doctors in casual dress scored lower in terms of trust and confidence.
- People Prefer White Coats Even After Learning of Risk – In one study, even after patients learned that white coats may be a vessel for spreading disease, they said they preferred a doctor with a white coat. The perception of competence is so strong, patients assume that the doctors wash their coats on a regular basis in order to avoid carrying disease around. This obviously does not change the actual risk of infection that may come with wearing a white coat, but the impact on the patient’s perception is obvious.
- Bare-Below-Elbow Reduces Confidence – Fear of possible infection that comes with long-sleeved white coats has lead England to establish a ‘bare-below-the-elbow’ policy for doctors. Patients have reacted negatively to the policy, with only 30% feeling comfortable or confident with a doctor wearing bare-below-the-elbow garments.
- What’s Under the Coat Does Not Matter – A doctor wearing a white coat over scrubs scored about the same as a doctor wearing a white coat over professional dress. Even though scrubs by themselves didn’t score very high, once a white coat was put on, the perception of competence increased dramatically. These findings suggest patients prefer white coats, contributing to greater comfort and confidence with their physicians.
At the end of the day, the ability to develop a strong relationship with a patient is what matters. It’s been shown that a white coat and professional clothes can build a good first impression and make the patient feel trust, which is a great foundation for building that strong relationship.