New Recommendations May Retire Doctor’s White Lab Coat

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The white lab coat that patients are accustomed to seeing doctors wear may soon be a thing of the past. Guidance issued this month on what healthcare workers wear outside of the operating room suggests that attire choices should attempt to balance professional appearance, comfort and practicality with the potential role of clothing in the cross-transmission of pathogens.

Doctor in a white lab coat

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America is a professional group whose mission is to prevent and control infections in the medical workplace.

In a paper published earlier this month in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, experts from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America provide general guidance to the medical community regarding healthcare personnel attire outside the operating room.

Their study consisted of three parts:

  • A review and interpretation of the medical literature concerning perceptions of attire from both healthcare personnel and patients, as well as evidence for contamination of clothing and potential contribution to cross-transmission.
  • A review of hospital policies related to healthcare personal attire.
  • A survey assessing both institutional healthcare personnel attire policies and perceptions of attire in the cross-transmission of pathogens.

The authors suggest that to minimize infection risk, hospitals might want to adopt a “bare below the elbows” policy that includes short sleeves and no wristwatch, jewelry or neckties during contact with patients. If the use of white coats is mandated by the organization, each doctor engaged in direct patient care should have at least two, worn alternately and washed frequently. Doctors should be encouraged to remove their coat before approaching patients.

The study authors emphasize that there is limited data on the optimal approach to healthcare personnel attire in clinical, nonsurgical areas. They stress that their recommendations are weighted more on the biological plausibility of transmitting infection through clothing.


  1. Bearman et al. Healthcare personnel attire in non-operating-room settings. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2014 Feb;35(2):107-21. doi: 10.1086/675066.
    View abstract
About the Author

Jenny Jessen is a senior writer at Highlight HEALTH.