Building a rapport and level of trust with patients is critical in the healthcare field because they can be vulnerable and reliant upon their medical professional. Trust is defined as the “Firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something,” according to the Oxford Dictionary, and this is exactly what healthcare workers need to foster in their patients.
There are essential ways to build trust in the healthcare industry. A few include being knowledgeable, honest, respectful, skilled in communication, and showing that you care. All of those elements of trust are essential, yet a medical professional’s choice in clothing on the job also has an impact on how they’re perceived by patients. What you wear has the potential to help you build trust with patients for improved outcomes and satisfaction.
The Importance of Building Trust with Patients
Why is it vital to build trust with your patients? High levels of trust are associated with multiple benefits. Trust is linked to higher acceptance of recommended treatments, greater adherence to treatments, and improved perception of quality care with a reduction in anxiety. Patients are also more likely to open up with medical professionals they can depend on, improving the quality of interactions resulting in shared decision-making and better patient autonomy.
Patient Preferences in Medical Professional Dress
So how does what medical professionals wear come into the picture when building patient trust? Several studies have investigated what patients prefer and how they react to the way healthcare workers dress. One study published in BMJ Open discovered that patients do care what physicians and other medical professionals wear. Not only did researchers find that what specialists wear is important to patients, over one-third of patients said that what doctors wear influences satisfaction with care, too.
A newer study published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine found similar results. Researchers found that 61% of patients believed medical professional dress was important, and nearly half of the patients involved in the study felt that how a healthcare worker dressed influenced their fulfillment with medical care.
In both studies, it was the traditional white coat that was the preferred dress among patients, particularly among the older demographic. While patient preferences may vary across care settings, patient age, and geography, it’s become clear that most prefer medical professionals and trust them more when they do the traditional white coat.
Patient Outcomes and Satisfaction
While it may seem surprising, medical professionals who wear white lab coats are perceived as more approachable. Patients likely view the white coat as a uniform for healthcare workers, and it provides a professional feel that encourages confidence in their work.
With studies showing that nearly two-thirds of patients prefer white coats in both hospitals and offices, medical professionals need to choose their attire carefully so that they’re visually communicating to patients that they can be trusted. By building that confidence with patients, healthcare workers ensure patients are more likely to be open and disclose important information, which results in better care, superior contentment, and improved patient results.
Building professional patient relationships on a foundation of trust is critical, and a visual representation of trust — the white coat — can make creating those quality connections easier. Wearing a coat is an easily modifiable component to produce better patient care experiences and offers the ability to build trust with patients to heighten positive outcomes and overall satisfaction. If the potential to build extremely honest, respectful, and comfortable relationships with patients can come from wearing the classic white lab coat, it’s completely worth it.
Mike Buscher and Treb Becher are practicing physicians, friends and co-founders of The Good Coat, LLC. The Good Coat is a small business that focuses on making exceptional, high-quality, functional lab and white coats.