American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

White coats contribute to the unsafe hierarchical culture in health care

Following on the heels of Mike's bare-below the elbows debate at IDWeek, I posted a quick survey to gauge your impression of the level of acceptable harm associated with white coats. I'm still working on the power calculations that will be informed by the survey, but wanted to say thank you to the many who answered the questions. In the meantime, I also wanted to post the comments left by you, our readers. I've posted almost all of the comments thus far apart from those with swearing or those that mention their answers to question #1 of the survey.

One thing that struck me when reading the comments is that the white coat is a symbol that perpetuates hierarchy and is part of an unsafe culture. We need to create healthcare systems without hierarchy and it seems that the white coat contributes to a system where 58% of nurses that see harm are afraid to speak up ”and people need to be able to speak up.” Thus, even if you are in the minority who believes that white coats are not involved in pathogen transmission, your white coat might be harming patients by contributing to an unsafe hierarchal culture.

An interesting patient-centered quote that seems to run counter to the current thinking associating white coats with professionalism: ”If there are better options that would reduce transmission of infection then burn the white coats. As a patient I dislike them, intensely. Reminds me of a butcher shop or auto mechanic, not reassuring at all.”

Pro White Coat:

“Not an issue as long as changed daily and sleeves rolled up above the elbow and they don't carry medical equipment in the pockets”

“The white coat continues to be an important identifier of the profession, and symbols are important”

“It is certainly useful to carry things but also represents antiquated power hierarchy. Although there is no evidence, it plausible that they could transmit infections. Then again so could stethoscopes which have more direct patient contact.”

“Can't prove it is causing resistance—and I think patients like it”

“Needs an RCT. Anything else is nonsense … unless we say all health care providers put on and remove scrubs at work”

“We have white coats with short sleeves. This is no problem in my opinion. But bare below the elbows has become the standard in most Dutch hospitals. Probably the turning point was a documentary with a hidden camera showing that healthcare workers knew that hand hygiene was important that they should not wear jewelry, but they just didn't take the rules serious. Sometimes we don't need science but a good mirror and public response”

“Fashion item”

Pro Bare Below Elbow (OK with eliminating White Coats):

“It's merely a badge of authority and seniority masquerading as cleanliness and something “sciencey”

“A disease-ridden, antiquated symbol. They project the same professional and scientific insecurity as when doctors started wearing them to appropriate the public legitimacy of science.”

“I appreciate that for many, the white coat is a status symbol and helps create an instant first impression on patients. That being said, times are changing. The physician is not the most important person in the room. The healthcare team is what should be the focus now. Tear off the coat and tear down the hierarchy”

“I understand white coats as a part of PPE when you don't want to get something on yourself or to prevent things on you from spreading. But when the white coat goes EVERYWHERE you go, it doesn't maintain its protective qualities. Also, as a pharmacist, I'd much rather have normal, professional or consulting covnersations as a professionally dressed human than a white coat.”

“If it's a vector for microorganisms, eliminate it. Simple”

“Not necessary. Wear scrubs like everyone else. If your ego needs the coat, get therapy”

“I hate it. Adds to elitism and difference. Separates us from our humanness”

“White gets filthy too quickly”

“In the past, it was a status symbol for physicians; this is now translated to our students, ancillary staff and physician extenders. It is not represent amount of fundamental knowledge or the ability to care for patients. It was an extension of the laboratory part of our profession transitioned from black coats earlier in the last century. Currently, it is nothing more than a status symbol or accessory”

“White coats offer no benefit. We should try to prevent infections by any means necessary”

“I don't think white coats are necessary, but then I'm also not American!”

“Don't wear them in Australia. If you're worried about getting dirty, wear scrubs”

“It's part of a bygone age”

“Given the association with pathogenic transmissions, I am appalled we are still handing them out to our medical trainees!”

“I work at a pediatric hospital where most physicians do not wear white coats. Anecdotally, pediatricians seem to eschew white coats in order to be more friendly and approachable. Don't know what impact this has on HAI at our hospital”

“Doctors don't walk around with head mirrors anymore; the white coat makes about as much sense to me. Why do we still have this thing that exists for no other reason than a vector for disease?!”

Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands). This post originally appeared at the blog Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention.

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Members of the American College of Physicians contribute posts from their own sites to ACP Internistand ACP Hospitalist. Contributors include:

Albert Fuchs, MD
Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000.

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Amanda Xi, ACP Medical Student Member, is a first-year medical student at the OUWB School of Medicine, charter class of 2015, in Rochester, Mich., from which she which chronicles her journey through medical training from day 1 of medical school.

Ira S. Nash, MD, FACP, is the senior vice president and executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group, and a professor of Cardiology and Population Health at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases and was in the private practice of cardiology before joining the full-time faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Zackary Berger
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.

Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention
Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Iowa City, IA, with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).

db's Medical Rants
Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.

Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care.

Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.

Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.

Everything Health
Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, blogs about the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st century.

Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.

Glass Hospital
John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, provides transparency on the workings of medical practice and the complexities of hospital care, illuminates the emotional and cognitive aspects of caregiving and decision-making from the perspective of an active primary care physician, and offers behind-the-scenes portraits of hospital sanctums and the people who inhabit them.

Gut Check
Ryan Madanick, MD, ACP Member, is a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and the Program Director for the GI & Hepatology Fellowship Program. He specializes in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD, heartburn, and chest pain.

I'm dok
Mike Aref, MD, PhD, FACP, is an academic hospitalist with an interest in basic and clinical science and education, with interests in noninvasive monitoring and diagnostic testing using novel bedside imaging modalities, diagnostic reasoning, medical informatics, new medical education modalities, pre-code/code management, palliative care, patient-physician communication, quality improvement, and quantitative biomedical imaging.

Informatics Professor
William Hersh, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, Oregon Health & Science University, posts his thoughts on various topics related to biomedical and health informatics.

David Katz, MD
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACP, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care.

Just Oncology
Richard Just, MD, ACP Member, has 36 years in clinical practice of hematology and medical oncology. His blog is a joint publication with Gregg Masters, MPH.

Kevin Pho, MD, ACP Member, offers one of the Web's definitive sites for influential health commentary.

MD Whistleblower
Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.

Medical Lessons
Elaine Schattner, MD, FACP, shares her ideas on education, ethics in medicine, health care news and culture. Her views on medicine are informed by her past experiences in caring for patients, as a researcher in cancer immunology, and as a patient who's had breast cancer.

Mired in MedEd
Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is the Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education (CME), and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, where he blogs about medical education.

More Musings
Rob Lamberts, MD, ACP Member, a med-peds and general practice internist, returns with "volume 2" of his personal musings about medicine, life, armadillos and Sasquatch at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind).

David M. Sack, MD, FACP, practices general gastroenterology at a small community hospital in Connecticut. His blog is a series of musings on medicine, medical care, the health care system and medical ethics, in no particular order.

Reflections of a Grady Doctor
Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, reflects on the personal side of being a doctor in a community hospital in Atlanta.

The Blog of Paul Sufka
Paul Sufka, MD, ACP Member, is a board certified rheumatologist in St. Paul, Minn. He was a chief resident in internal medicine with the University of Minnesota and then completed his fellowship training in rheumatology in June 2011 at the University of Minnesota Department of Rheumatology. His interests include the use of technology in medicine.

Technology in (Medical) Education
Neil Mehta, MBBS, MS, FACP, is interested in use of technology in education, social media and networking, practice management and evidence-based medicine tools, personal information and knowledge management.

Peter A. Lipson, MD
Peter A. Lipson, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. The blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture.

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Janice Boughton, MD, FACP, practiced internal medicine for 20 years before adopting a career in hospital and primary care medicine as a locum tenens physician. She lives in Idaho when not traveling.

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Daniel Ginsberg, MD, FACP, is an internal medicine physician who has avidly applied computers to medicine since 1986, when he first wrote medically oriented computer programs. He is in practice in Tacoma, Washington.

Other blogs of note:

American Journal of Medicine
Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.

Clinical Correlations
A collaborative medical blog started by Neil Shapiro, MD, ACP Member, associate program director at New York University Medical Center's internal medicine residency program. Faculty, residents and students contribute case studies, mystery quizzes, news, commentary and more.

Interact MD
Michael Benjamin, MD, ACP member, doesn't accept industry money so he can create an independent, clinician-reviewed space on the Internet for physicians to report and comment on the medical news of the day.

PLoS Blog
The Public Library of Science's open access materials include a blog.

White Coat Rants
One of the most popular anonymous blogs written by an emergency room physician.

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