I'm always amused by these studies because I've never met a patient who chose their doctor on a sartorial basis. It would be like buying a red car because you love that color even though you know nothing else about the car and never took it for a test drive. These types of studies, in my opinion, sell patients short. Yes, all of us form rapid first opinions about those we encounter, but almost all of us are sophisticated enough to quickly move past superficial qualities to assess a person's honesty, ability to communicate, and for physicians, his/her ability to demonstrate empathy. Lastly, the entire premise of the study seems strange--while you might choose your primary care doctor, it's extremely unlikely that you will choose your intensivist. The accompanying editorial is congruent with my line of thinking and concludes that professional behavior is far more important to patients and families than professional appearance.
I stopped wearing a white coat a decade ago, but many physicians still cling to it. Some wear them for storage, which my wife (also a doctor) tells me is more important for women since their clothing has fewer pockets. Some wear white coats as a form of identification, which may have held true when doctors were the only people in the hospital wearing them. Some wear them for warmth. And some just need the ego boost.
On April 1, we embark on a new policy at my hospital that no longer requires contact precautions for patients with MRSA and VRE. As we educate our staff on the change, we're reminding them that it's ok to shed the white coat and tie. If we're not going to wrap ourselves in plastic, bare below the elbows seems even more important.