Good news for chilly doctors—you can wear long sleeves with impunity inside hospitals. Because University of Colorado researchers find that docs pick up just as much bacteria when their forearms are bare as they do when wearing long sleeves. The study is in the Journal of Hospital Medicine. [M. Burden et al., Cleaned Physician Uniforms and Infrequently Washed White Coats Have Similar Rates of Bacterial Contamination After an Eight-Hour Workday: A Randomized Controlled Trial]
Britain recently issued guidelines that banned white coats and long sleeves in hospitals in the hope that the move would decrease the chances of picking up and transferring bacteria, especially the scourge of MRSA: methicillin-resistant staph. The research team wanted to see if the rule would actually help. They had 50 doctors start a workday wearing a freshly washed short-sleeve shirt and another 50 in their unwashed long-sleeved white coats.
Samples were taken from all 100 docs, at the wrists, pockets and cuffs, if they had them. And by the end of an eight-hour shift, both groups of physicians were carrying similar bacteria loads. In fact, after just three hours the short-sleeved docs were already hosting half of the bacteria as the docs wearing unwashed coats. So go ahead and wear long sleeves in the hospital. If you’re going to wash something, make it your hands.
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]