Often first impressions matter, and sometimes your clothing choices can speak volumes about you. But does that hold true for a doctor when striving to make a good first impression upon a patient? Is the patient’s perception about the quality of care influenced by what a doctor wears?
A Cooper University Hospital high-risk obstetrician answered these questions in his research appearing in the February issue of The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a peer-reviewed publication. “Our hypothesis held true. Our study determined that patient satisfaction is unrelated to physician attire, “ said Richard L. Fischer, M.D., a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Co-Division Head of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Cooper University Hospital and lead researcher of the study. “Patients weren’t any less satisfied and didn’t perceive any difference based on how their doctors appeared.”
The question of how a doctor should dress has been widely debated within the medical community. Doctors traditionally choose clothing based on their personal preferences, comfort levels and the impressions they want to convey. The physician wants to instill in the patient a high level of confidence in both bedside manner and professional competency.
Some physicians choose a white coat to suggest a sense of cleanliness, professionalism and authority while others choose more informal attire in the hope of breaking down barriers, improving communications and creating a more equal physician-patient relationship, the study notes.
The research involved 20 full-time faculty members in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J. During a three-month span between September and November 2005, doctors were randomly assigned to wear business attire, casual clothing or scrub suits for a week at a time. The study meticulously outlined for each doctor what constituted the differences among the styles of clothing. For instance, a buttoned white coat was required for business attire, prohibited while wearing scrubs and generally discouraged for casual attire, although permitted as long as it was unbuttoned.
Patients who were meeting one of the doctors for the first time and their appointment lasted at least 10 minutes were asked to complete a survey. This was to avoid any bias from previous interactions. Each form included 10 questions about the physician’s competence and professionalism, the patient’s sense of comfort and confidence in the physician, and whether they would return to or recommend the doctor to others. No statements referred to the provider’s clothing. Of the 1,116 patients involved in the study, 375 were exposed to physicians in business attire, 373 to casual attire and 368 to scrub attire. The study found identical satisfactions levels among all three apparels, regardless of the questions asked.
“This contradicts the longstanding belief that attire affects the level of patient comfort or the patient’s perception of physician competence and professionalism,” Dr. Fischer said.
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