No more white coats? New recommendations aimed at limiting the cross-transmission of pathogens could spell the end of a traditional symbol of healthcare professionalism.
New guidance published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology says common attire worn by healthcare professionals, including white coats, stethoscopes and neckties, could serve as vehicles to carry bacteria between patients.
While healthcare facilities must focus on known ways to prevent infection, such as hand hygiene and proper environmental cleaning, infection control efforts should also address what healthcare professionals are wearing, says Mark Rupp, MD, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and an author of the recommendations.
The recommendations suggest facilities implement the following practices:
- Ensure caregivers wear short sleeves and no wristwatches, jewelry or neckties when treating patients.
- Frequently launder any apparel that comes in contact with patients or patients' environments. If home laundering is allowed, ensure apparel is washed in hot water with bleach and mechanically dried or ironed.
- Disinfect, replace or eliminate the use of lanyards, ID tags, cell phones and pagers that come into direct contact with patients.
- Ensure all footwear has closed toes, low heels and non-skid soles.
- Clean shared equipment, including stethoscopes, between patient uses.
- When white coats are required, ensure wearers have 2 or more available at all times and convenient access to a laundering service. Place hooks in clinical areas so wearers can remove the coats before caring for patients.
Dr. Rupp says following these measures should be voluntary until they're proven effective with additional clinical research. He adds that healthcare providers and the general public may need to re-evaluate their perceptions of medical cultures and traditions as facilities aim to balance professional appearance, comfort, and practicality with infection control concerns.