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Patients Have More Trust In Fancily Dressed Doctors

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The choice really does matter. Cultura Motion/Shutterstock

Even in cerebral matters, it seems that humans can’t help but make judgments based on appearance.

A new study conducted by a team of possibly self-conscious physicians from the University of Michigan Medical School found that patients not only care how their doctors dress, they may even base their overall satisfaction partly on their provider’s outward presentation.

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So what look reigns supreme? A sharp combination of a classic white lab coat worn over a suit is apparently the top choice for both male and female physicians.

The unusual study, published in BMJ Open, asked 4,062 patients from 10 hospitals and clinics to respond to photos of a male and a female doctor (actual doctors, not models) who were sporting seven different outfits. For each image, participants rated how knowledgeable, trustworthy, caring, and approachable the doctor seemed.

One of the photo prompt cards given to subjects to rank. Petrilli et al/BMJ Open, 2018

Next, the participants were queried as to which outfit they would prefer their own doctor to wear, and which is preferable in different medical settings. Then, the authors directly asked whether the outfit a doctor wears is important to the patient.

Fifty-three percent reported that it does indeed matter to them, and over one-third stated that it could influence how pleased they are with their care. Easily nabbing the top spot, formal attire with a white coat was most highly rated for all four categories and 44 percent of patients would like their personal doctors to wear it. Coming in second place, 26 percent liked the idea of their doctors wearing a white coat over scrubs.

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“Patients appear to care about attire and may expect to see their doctor in certain ways,” lead author Dr Christopher Petrilli said in a statement. “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.”

When a doctor is working in the emergency room or as a surgeon, scrubs alone take top billing; these were the only situations in which more participants preferred no white coat. Sixty-two percent thought that doctors should be wearing the hallmark Hippocratic vestment if treating a patient in the hospital.

Sadly for any physicians who love donning casual looks, 56 percent of participants reported that they were either neutral or against their doctor wearing the jeans and tucked short-sleeved shirt when seeing patients on weekends.

“Patients don’t always have the opportunity to choose their doctor. In this era of appropriately increased focus on patient-centeredness and satisfaction, physician attire may be an important, easily modifiable component of the patient care experience,” Petrilli said.


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