Poll: Do we need to hang up the white coat to limit infection?

Even more than the stethoscope or the black bag, perhaps nothing symbolizes the medical profession more than the white coat. Medical students enter the profession with a “white coat ceremony,” and patients see a doctor in a white coat as a trusted authority.

Historically, doctors wore white coats to act as a barrier against disease and infection. However, that assumption has been contradicted recently, by numerous studies showing that doctors’ coats harbor germs and promote the spread of dangerous bacteria.

A study at the University of Maryland found that only 65 percent of medical personnel had changed their coat in the last week, and a shocking 15 percent admitted they hadn’t changed coats in a month.

The bugs that promote drug-resistant Staphylococcus infections can survive on clothing for 56 days.

Studies show that hospital-acquired infections decrease when hospitals handle the staff laundry. In hospitals in the United Kingdom, physicians have been banned from wearing white coats in order to decrease the risk of infection.

Is it time for all doctors to abandon tradition, and say good-bye to their white coats?

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