Each week, OMRF Vice President of Clinical Affairs Dr. Judith James opens “Adam’s Journal” to answer a medical question from Adam Cohen, OMRF’s senior vice president & general counsel.
I’ve heard that the mere sight of a physician’s white coat can drive up a person’s blood pressure. Is this a real thing? If so, shouldn’t doctors opt for a more casual wardrobe to put patients at ease?
Dr. James Prescribes
Many people can experience anxiety-induced spikes in their blood pressure when visiting their healthcare providers. This phenomenon is commonly known as “white-coat hypertension” or the “white-coat effect.”
Research has shown this effect is real. However, despite the name, there’s no evidence these increases in blood pressure are tied directly to the piece of clothing that describes them.
A 2014 review combined data from 15 studies on the effect involving more than 1,000 patients. On average, patients’ blood pressure rose appreciably – 7 points for the top (systolic) number, almost 4 for the bottom (diastolic) – when the readings were taken by doctors rather than nurses.
Increases in blood pressure can have many causes, so it’s important not to shrug off any uptick. Poorly controlled blood pressure has been linked to an elevated risk of stroke, cardiac disease and a host of other health conditions. Even if you believe a high reading was caused by visiting the doctor (or the traffic you encountered on the way there), treatment may be warranted.
As for doctors’ wardrobes, while some people may prefer their physicians join the world of business casual, others view the white coat as a defining symbol of the medical profession.
A study of patients at 10 academic hospitals found that among those who cared about their healthcare providers’ attire, most preferred their doctors to wear white coats. A survey in JAMA Network Open yielded similar results, finding that physicians in white coats were perceived as significantly more experienced, professional and friendly than those donning fleece or softshell jackets.
Of course, medical care has nothing to do with your care provider’s sartorial choices. Still, patients’ perceptions matter. Even in a world increasingly dominated by athleisure, doctors’ white coats appear here to stay.
Do you have a health query for Dr. James? Email email@example.com and your question may be answered in a future column!