Sunday, January 31, 2010

No to white coats

I heard from a friend recently that the white lab coats doctors wear actually contribute to the spread of infection. I couldn't believe my ears (I'm a skeptic) and did some research. Well, as I suspected he's partially right. It's true that the American Medical Association voted last year on a resolution that would recommend hospitals to ban doctor's iconic white lab coats for good. Studies show that bacteria thrives on these coats, especially around the sleeve area. This helps spread infection within the hospital (according to the CDC, 100,000 US patients die each year from infections contracted in hospitals). But this has less to do with the fact that it's white or a coat, and more due to doctor's wearing their coats multiple times without washing. At the end of the day, the typical doctor might hang up his or her coat and go home. Then come back, washed up and sterilized, and put on the same coat from the day before.

Before the early 20th century, doctors wore their regular street c
lothes to work. But doctors eventually adopted the scientific looking lab coats as a way to legitimize themselves in the eyes of their patients. The color white also helps convey purity of life. It is also a way to visually differentiate the doctor from his nurses or students.

This new law to ban white lab coats might not make much of a difference anyway. Doctors in smaller hospitals or practices don't usually don the white lab coat anyway. Recent studies show only 1 in 8 actually sport a white coat to work.

So an interesting topic to bring up at the dinner table. But not as dramatic as it initially sounds. Sometime soon the doctor's white lab coat will be a thing of the past and we'll have new things to gripe to our friends about in the hospital. Or we can talk about more pressing agendas like the state of US health care in general!!!

1 comment:

Brian McDermott said...

"Black lab coats were used in early biomedical and microbiology laboratories because any dust (i.e. contamination) that settled on them was easily visible."

This was what I was remembering, Botha. But yeah, the need to wash those coats is the bigger issue. Also, ties are culprits for carrying bacteria: