To white coat, or not to white coat? That is the telehealth doctor question.

A light but thoughtful take on the protocols of the white coat, and how the clinical dress translates to telehealth consults. Dr. Jayne, who writes the weekly ‘Curbside Consult’ column for HISTalk, discussed how wearing a white coat on a telehealth visit may very well be passé. Some companies require it, others don’t, but what’s in those pockets anyway? And in telehealth, does this garb turn off patients? 

Dr. Jayne’s practice, based on her columns, is a mix between office and telehealth, but she has previously worked in the ER/ED. Where the white coat comes from is hospital culture, where the differentiators were short white coats for the medical students and longer white coats for the degreed physicians–except in surgery where short coats were worn by interns (remember interns?) and first-year residents. Men wore ties, and the dress was uniformly professional under those white coats. The white coats descended from laboratory coats. As everyone changed into scrubs during the pandemic and ties were ditched (long ago in the UK, along with long sleeves), who is who in a hospital became even more confusing to outsiders, thus requiring even larger nametags.

Perhaps the precedent for telehealth is psychiatry, where most of the telehealth consults occur at the present time. In my brother’s clinical practice, and at the community hospital where he admitted patients, he and his colleagues didn’t wear white coats over their jackets and ties (or dresses/suits for the women). It was offputting to patients, even if they were already in the psych ward. One concession–short sleeves in summer. He did wear a white coat as a locum tenens in a much larger hospital’s psychiatric ER, mainly to protect his clothing from ER mayhem which was prevalent on the night shift. 

As Dr. Jayne put it, it’ll be interesting to see how the protocol evolves. Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 5/16/22

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