Is Your Doctor's White Coat (Or Tie Or Hand Shake) a Threat to Your Health?

The patients of the skeptical cardiologist have probably noted that over the last 10 years he has transitioned from wearing a tie to not wearing a tie and from always wearing a white coat to rarely wearing a white coat.
I wrote about this in 2015  in a previous post entitled “The Tie, The White Coat and The Fist Bump“:”

“My role models and mentors during my medical training taught me what I considered to be the proper appearance and demeanor of the professional  physician.
The male doctor wore a dress shirt and a tie. The doctor wore a white coat over his/her regular clothes. The more senior the doctor was in the medical hierarchy the longer the white coat and the more impressive the words written on the coat.
Presumably, this professional appearance of the doctor increased the confidence that the patient had in the professionalism of the doctor.
Upon encountering a patient in the hospital room or office exam room, the doctor extends his right hand, greets the patient and smiles and shakes hands.
I wore a tie and a white coat and shook hands consistently during the first 20 years of my practice but gradually these markers of a good doctor have fallen under scrutiny.”

A major issue with all three of these, I pointed out , is transmission of bacteria and viruses.
Now Aaron Frakt at The Incidental Economist has summarized the concerns about the doctor’s white coat in particular in a great article originally published in the New York Times entitled Why Your Doctor’s White Coat Can Be a Threat to Your Health | The Incidental Economist.
It’s a good short read I highly recommend.
Don’t be surprised if the next time you see me I am sans tie and white coat and do not offer a handshake.
Casually Yours,


7 thoughts on “Is Your Doctor's White Coat (Or Tie Or Hand Shake) a Threat to Your Health?”

  1. My father was trained as a Veterinarian back in the early 1930’s, before the days of penicillin. He always wore his sleeves rolled up to just below his elbows (not at church) and his lab coats had elbow length sleeves. He also shaved his underarms and chest because he delivered the occasional stubborn calf bare chested. None of this was unusual to me as a child, but here I am, 70, and just realizing why these little quirks were part of his life.

    • Pam,
      That is awesome! it occurs to me that I’ve seen doctors who roll up their white coat sleeves and it never dawned on me that it was for health reasons.

  2. My cardiologist always greets me with a handshake. I have wondered if he does not thereby get a few preliminary clues to my health, e.g. coolness or warmth of fingers, firmness of grip, etc.

  3. I would miss that handshake. It’s the moment when I know that my heart, my health, and my life are in the right hands. Sanitizer on the way out, but don’t give it up, please.

  4. I have yet to see any research published demonstrating that wearing a white coat (or tie, or stethoscope, or any other fomite) actually increases the risk of transmitting a pathogen. Demonstrating colonization of a myriad of bugs does not directly translate to an adverse outcome for patients. Furthermore, some patients find incredible value in doctors looking “the part” and this side of the discussion should not be ignored.

    • Good point. For those patients who value the appearance of their doctor over their doctor’s competence keep in mind you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Some of the worst doctors I have encountered had the external appearance of an esteemed physician.


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