- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

White coat or turquoise scrubs? Designer suit or collegiate casual? Patients don’t care what their doctor wears, even in an age of extreme fashion consciousness. It’s an old-fashioned bedside manner that most resonates with those who are ailing, according to research that plumbs the doctor-patient relationship.

“Our study determined that patient satisfaction is unrelated to physician attire. Patients weren’t any less satisfied and didn’t perceive any differences based on how their doctor appeared,” said Dr. Richard Fischer, lead researcher and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J.

His study involved a medical fashion show of sorts.

Dr. Fischer followed 20 full-time physicians at the hospital during a three-month period, closely monitoring what each wore to their patient appointments. The doctors had three choices: formal business attire topped with a traditional white lab coat, casual clothing or surgical scrubs.

“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 noted.

The sartorial choices, however, did not much matter to the 1,116 patients who participated in the research. Each was asked to gauge their impressions of their doctors on a 10-question survey after their appointments.

The study, which was released Tuesday, found identical reactions and levels of satisfaction among three groups of patients who saw their doctors in distinctly different styles of clothing.

“This contradicts the long-standing belief that attire affects the level of patient comfort, or the perception of physician competence and professionalism,” Dr. Fischer said.

It’s the doctor’s behavior that gets their attention, according to a separate analysis conducted by the Mayo Clinic. The bedside manner still matters.

Nearly 200 patients were surveyed during a two-year period after their visits to cardiology, oncology, family medicine, orthopedic surgery and 11 other departments of clinic facilities in Rochester, Mich., and Scottsdale, Ariz. The patients were asked to share their best and worst experiences and to provide detailed descriptions of “physician characteristics” that proved comforting and helpful to them.

“Seven ideal physician behaviors were identified in the research,” the study noted.

The patients most often wanted their doctors to be confident, empathetic, humane, personal, forthright, respectful and thorough, the study found. Though it did not rank these behaviors, the study noted that the most frequently cited behavior was thoroughness, the least frequent empathy.

“Most patients want a strong relationship with a primary care physician,” the study said. “The quality of a patient’s relationship with a physician can affect not only the patient’s emotional response but also behavioral and medical outcomes.”

The study was published in the March issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

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