Provider Attire: Does It Matter To Patients?

Work attire, whether by dress code, decorum or uniform, has always been meant to foster unity, status, discipline, and—of course—to help identify those in the workplace.

Walk into a police precinct, and you won’t be surprised to find police officers in uniforms. Peek into a restaurant’s kitchen, and you should expect to see cooks and chefs in aprons. Go to a baseball game and you’ll see the players are wearing their respective teams’ uniforms.

And not unlike baseball, worker attire also serves to say who’s role is what (or who is on which “team”).

Imagine if someone walked up to you and said he or she was a police officer, but lacked a uniform and a badge. Chances are you might feel suspicious, and perhaps even uncomfortable. A badge lets you know you’re talking to a police officer, just like a white apron to a cook—and a white lab coat to a healthcare professional.

In a healthcare setting like hospitals, operating rooms, clinics and examination rooms, a white lab coat should be a clear sign that you’re talking to a physician, a doctor, a surgeon, etc.

But as universal as that may seem, many will be surprised to learn that dress code in healthcare is far from standardized. Some hospitals require white lab coats, some require scrubs, some require both, some require formal wear, and some don’t follow a strict dress code at all.

How professional these different dress codes each are raises some interesting questions, but a more important question might be: does it matter to patients? Fortunately, a study by Christopher M Petrilli et al from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor answers just that.

The study

The study led by Petrilli set out to see what patients think about workplace attire for healthcare providers, and whether a certain ensemble was preferred over the others.

To determine this, they used questionnaires including pictures of a male and a female physician dressed in different kinds of work attire ranging from casual-formal to formal wear with a designer lab coat on top. Questions were then given to random patients to calculate a preference, if any, among the different ensembles on the pictured providers.

The study was conducted across 10 different academic hospitals from different regions of the United States and included a sample size of 4,062 patients. The patients were asked to evaluate how they felt about the professional in each specific ensemble over the following five characteristics: knowledgeable, trustworthy, caring, approachable and comfortable.

Results from each of the five categories were woven together to offer a composite score for each of the attire options. What the study found might not surprise you.

The results

Most results varied at least a little by healthcare setting. For example, when patients were asked about what they preferred their primary care physician to wear, the plurality (44%) of them said that “formal wear with a white lab coat on top” was the best choice. Another plurality (39%) also chose the same answer for what they’d like to see in a hospital setting.

On the other hand, another plurality (40%) of patients preferred ER physicians to sport only scrubs with no lab coat, and the same was true for a plurality (42%) of patients regarding surgeons.

When asked in general what patients preferred to see as workplace attire for doctors, 44% of patients found “formal attire with a lab coat on top” the most appropriate, and 26% found “scrubs with a coat on top” the best option.

In other words, the vast majority of patients felt that a white lab coat was the best option for healthcare provider work attire. And 53% of patients confirmed that what their physician or healthcare provider wears is important to them, with 36% of patients agreeing that attire has some sort of effect on how happy or satisfied they were with the service provided.

Like we mentioned, results varied a little by healthcare setting, and even by region and the gender of the physician. But in general, the results show that not only do patients have a preference, but that a preference can have very real weight on the patient experience during the delivery of service.

Simply put, patients feel more comfortable and more confident with their medical visits when their provider wears a lab coat.

Our two-cents on fitted lab coats

It’s worth mentioning. It wasn’t part of the Petrilli study, but we are all impacted by appearance to another degree, too.

It’s often the unspoken degree—but we are naturally drawn to well-dressed and attractive people. We’re more comfortable with them, we’re eager to relate to them and we enjoy interacting with them.

This is where we say that not all lab coats are created equal. When we think about getting the most out of your lab coat (in terms of its impact on patients), it’s easy to see how a stylish lab coat that is fitted and designed to look good and function well will add a pep to your step and make patients feel better, too.

The takeaway

Lab coats can be an indispensable part of the uniform in medical provider settings for a variety of reasons.

  1. They are functional, providing anything from pockets (which are oh-so-necessary, especially for female doctors who might otherwise put up with the cosmetic pockets of much of women’s clothing) to stethoscope holders.
  2. Lab coats are safe, designed as protective attire specifically to provide a barrier between yourself and any unsanitary substance that might be on the other side of the fabric.
  3. Lab coats are comfortable, woven from polyester-cotton blends designed specifically to provide you with a breathable, lightweight coat that is tough enough to protect you and last you a long time.
  4. And just as important as all of the other benefits, white lab coats make your patients feel more comfortable during appointments, and more confident talking to you about their concerns. Lab coats help communicate a message of safety and professionalism to your patients that a nice shirt and a tie alone simply won’t do.

Dr-James designer lab coats provide you with all the above benefits and more. Woven from a signature LABTEX polyester-cotton blend, our lab coats give you all the comfort you want alongside all the protection and durability you need. Designed in Milan, Italy, you won’t just feel safe and comfortable in our designer coats, you’ll look great while doing everything you need to do.

Most importantly, and today’s take-away, while you feel comfortable in the coat your patients will feel comfortable that you have it on, too.