Clinician attire is an important factor for a significant number of patients, and can influence the perception of care they receive, according to a new questionnaire-based study published in the British Medical Journal.

To investigate whether physician attire can affect a patient’s experience, researchers performed a cross-sectional study on 10 academic hospitals spanning the 4 main geographical regions of the US. A total of 4062 individuals filled in a 22 question survey that included photographs of male and female physicians in different attire. The primary outcome was preference for attire. Also assessed were variations in preferences by respondent characteristics, context of care, and geographical region. 

Results showed, on a 1 to 10 scale (1 being ‘somewhat preferred’ and 10 being ‘extremely preferred’) that formal attire with a white coat for both male and female physicians was the most preferred form of dress with a mean composite score of 8.1 (SD 1.8; P<.001); scrubs with white coat was next with a mean composite score of 7.6 (SD=1.9), followed by formal attire without a white coat which had a mean composite score of 7.5 (SD=2.0). 

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Fifty-three percent of respondents agreed with the statement that how their doctor dresses was important to them. Furthermore, 36% agreed with the statement that physician attire influenced how happy they were with their care. Fifty-five percent agreed or strongly agreed that a doctor should wear a white coat when seeing patients in the office. For the same question but in a hospital setting, 62% agreed or strongly agreed that a white coat should be worn.

“Patients appear to care about attire and may expect to see their doctor in certain ways,” said Christopher Petrilli, MD, and lead author. “Which may explain why even white lab coats received a high rating for ‘approachability’ – patients may see a white coat similar to a physician’s ‘uniform’ and may similarly also expect formal attire in most settings.” 

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A geographical variance was also noted; formal attire and white coats were selected as the preferred attire for doctors by 50% and 51% of patients in the West and South compared to 38% and 40% in the Northeast and Midwest. 

Credit: British Medical Journal

“This is by far the largest study to date in this area,” said Petrilli. “Given the size, methodological rigor and representativeness of these data, local, nuanced policies addressing physician attire should be considered to improve the patient experience.”

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This article originally appeared on MPR