Doctors who don't wear white make many patients uneasy, according to a recent Harvard study of medical attire and etiquette.
Three Harvard researchers and two University of California at San Francisco researchers surveyed 200 patients at teaching hospitals in Boston and San Francisco to find out how the patients thought doctors should behave.
The study, published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that patients appear to prefer doctors who dress conservatively.
The survey found that 65 percent of the patients believed physicians should wear white coats, 37 percent thought male doctors should wear neckties and 34 percent want female physicians to wear dresses or skirts.
The patients also had strong opinions about what doctors should not wear. Fifty-two percent thought blue jeans were not appropriate, and 27 percent disapproved of sneakers.
"When you're in the the hospital you feel helpless. You seek help from someone who seems like they deserve respect," said researcher Jocelyn J. Dunn, a fourth-year student at the Harvard Medical School.
The Harvard researchers also found that 74 percent of the patients they surveyed preferred to call doctors by their titles and surnames whereas only 18 percent wanted physicians to address them by their surnames. "Doctors should be more aware that they may be offending some patients when calling them by their last names," Dunn said.
According to Dunn the study began two years ago when she started working at the Department of Medicine and asked for advice about how to greet patients and how to dress so as to be "appropriate."
Curiosity led her to ask who decided what was the appropriate way of dealing with patients, Dunn said.
She found that doctors decided themselves what was proper physician-patient etiquette without consulting patients. Dunn said she decided to get another opinion and asked patients what they thought was appropriate attire and manner for doctors.
"We did the survey for fun, and at Harvard we like to have fun in the most rigorous way as possible," said another researcher, Thomas H. Lee, an instructor in medicine.
However, pleasing the patient may not always be possible, Dunn said. "Skirts aren't always practical. For instance,it's hard to do CPR on a person when you'rewearing a skirt," said Dunn.
Dunn said she did the survey to provide foodfor thought, not to change doctors' behavior.
However, doctors should keep in mind patientpreferences, Dunn said. "Patients deserve[conservative clothes] if that's what they reallywant," she said