Should You Ditch The White Lab Coat?
Casual physician attire, such as fleece and softshell jackets, has become increasingly popular in recent years, but little research has been conducted into how this shift has affected patient perspective, trust building, and marketing. The problem: physicians may not realize just how much their attire can influence the way patients view their practice. Additionally, gender biases have recently come to light in regards to physician attire. You might not want to retire your white lab coat just yet. Here’s some insight.
The age-old physicians’ white coat began in the 19th century synonymous to evidence-based medical advancements and use of sterilization products. The white coat became a symbol of cleanliness, scientific achievement, and professional responsibility. This symbolism has prevailed throughout the 21st century. It has been found that the majority of patients prefer formal physician attire (the white coat) and more than one third of patients agree it is a component of their satisfaction with care. Although healthcare workspace has evolved to a team-based environment with less emphasis on positional hierarchy, the white coat has maintained its symbolic status of expertise and professionalism.
In one study, conducted in 2005 by Rehman and Colleagues (ref link), they found that a female physician’s attire correlated with patient trust and confidence building more than a male physician’s attire. The study also determined 73% of patients voted that business attire without a white coat was inappropriate for female physicians compared with 24% for male physicians. This is where gender biases began to be observed in regards to what physicians wear to work.
The Question: How does the public perceive casual physician attire compared with white coats, and are there differences by gender of the physician?
A 2020 study was conducted by a group of physicians at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine to answer the question: How does the public perceive casual physician attire compared with white coats, and are there differences by gender of the physician? [Link to case study}
This study measured the survey respondent’s ratings of professionalism, experience and friendliness of female and male models in various healthcare attire. It also measured the perception of the model’s most likely healthcare profession. For the 487 survey responses collected, 53% of survey participants were female and 76% identified as white humans.
The study concluded that the majority of respondents perceived the models wearing white coats to be significantly more experienced and professional compared to models wearing fleece/softshell jackets.
Comparing female vs. male models wearing casual attire, respondents rated the female models to be far less experienced and professional than the male models. Female models were also perceived as a Medical Tech more frequently than male models when sporting casual attire.
What does this have to do with you and successfully marketing your practice?
We are not suggesting that you are any less professional, experienced or friendly without the sacred white lab coat. Honestly, we know the quality of your work wouldn’t change whether you were wearing pajamas or your formal physician attire. But, the results from the studies we found are compelling. They seem to suggest the average patient’s perception of you and your practice is tied to the white coat. If it builds patient confidence and trust, then use this to your advantage when marketing your practice.
Looking for new patient growth for your practice?
We know you look fabulous and feel confident in an Armani suit, but ask yourself: “What do patients see when they come across an image of me sporting a suit on our website?” Nice suits are often affiliated with: Banker, Attorney, but not necessarily – trusted Doctor. If your patients perceive you better in a white lab coat, then make sure this image is on the front page of your website. Maybe your social media channels should consist of you doing real-time hours in that lab coat. Most importantly, every article or feature that spotlights you as a physician, to the public, should – you guessed it – have you sporting a white lab coat… at least until the white lab coat loses favor and patients are no longer making judgements base on who wears or doesn’t wear them.
The point is…
Patients have many options when it comes to selecting a doctor so you will want to have every advantage in gaining their favor. Male or Female – big city or small town – if you want to be perceived as the smart, capable, amazing doctor that you are, you may want to dust off your white lab coat and put it to work for you.
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