Banning Indian doctors and medical students from wearing long-sleeved white coats could reduce the spread of infections in hospitals, says a new study.
“Long sleeved coats spread infection and lead to avoidable harm and cost to patients,” said Edmond Fernandes, a postgraduate at Yenepoya Medical College in Bengaluru.
“Every hospital should have a committee to check and respond to hospital acquired infections,” he added.
“But an easy win would be for India’s ministry of health to ban doctors and medical students from wearing white coats, to reduce the harm and cost that results from hospital acquired infections,” Fernandes said in the study published in the journal The BMJ.
“Although long sleeved white coats have traditionally been worn by doctors since the 19th century, we now know that white coats harbour potential contaminants and contribute considerably to the burden of disease acquired in hospital by spreading infection,” Fernandes added.
He said that in India, changing areas in hospitals are rare because of space constraints, so white coats are commonly worn by students coming from college and outside the hospital. They are also often left on chairs, tables, and in corridors.
He added that in many cities in India some junior doctors are also now seen wearing white coats in shopping malls and cinemas too, and then they enter sterile zones in the hospital in the same attire.
“Given India’s tropical climate, common sense indicates that we should discourage wearing white coats that are washed perhaps only every few weeks,” Fernandes said.
In 2007, the United Kingdom took the landmark decision to ban long sleeved white coats – and that in 2009, the American Medical Association wanted to follow suit and dump the white coats, “but the proposal was dismissed because clinicians wanted to keep their traditional gowns”, he said.
“White coats are mere symbolism and wearing them does not itself confer status or professionalism,” Fernandes added.
“Dressing presentably and sporting a smile are more important than white coats and that institutions should give every medical student and doctor a recognisable name badge to wear,” he said.