Over the last few years a debate has begun about the deficiencies of lab coats worn in doctors’ practices and clinical settings. Most criticisms have to do with the spread of germs and a lack of hygiene. On the surface, these claims seem to make sense – but dive a little deeper, and you’ll actually see that this threat is mostly bark with very little bite. As a matter of fact, with the proper care and worn in the right settings, the white coat is still very much an integral part of the patient care experience.
The white coat of today comes in performance fabrics that help doctors reduce the likelihood of spreading germs. Because the fact is, germs and bacteria are everywhere anyways – take off your white coat and you have bacteria on your arms and hands. There simply is no escaping all the bacteria, but there also hasn’t been any research that indicates doctors’ lab coats spread bacteria in cases of hospital-acquired infections.
Actually, in the UK health leaders started implementing a “bare below the elbows” policy for doctors with their lab coats. The intention was to prevent the spread of germs through the sleeves of the lab coat, which are the most likely to pick up bacteria throughout the work day. However, studies found that this measure didn’t have a significant effect on the reduction of hospital-acquired infection in patients.
As long as you launder your white coat regularly, there is very little evidence to indicate that lab coats are any more unhygienic than any other garment worn in a clinical setting. I would recommend that you wash your lab coat 3-5 times a week – not only will this reduce the amount of dirt and bacteria day-to-day, but keeping your lab coat fresh at all times is an easy way to prevent the buildup of these in the fabric as well.