Ban Proposed on Physician Ties, White Coats, Jewelry

May 4, 2011

Lawmakers in New York are proposing to ban physicians and other healthcare professionals from wearing neckties, white coats, jewelry, and other items to help prevent the spread of infection.

Lawmakers in New York are proposing to ban physicians and other healthcare professionals from wearing neckties, jewelry and other items to help prevent the spread of infection, according to a report in the Democrat and Chronicle.

The proposal would bar physicians and other healthcare workers from wearing ties and white coats in a clinical setting, and would adopt a “bare below the elbow” policy, which would require doctors to wear short-sleeve shirts, regularly clean identification badges, ban wrist watches and jewelry.

“By making common sense changes to the way that our health professionals dress in a clinical setting, we can prevent suffering, lower costs, and most importantly save lives,” Jeffrey D. Klein, (D., Bronx/Westchester) said in a statement.

Klein cited the risk of spreading methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA, which killed more people than the AIDS virus in 2005, according to the Independent Democratic Conference. Klein claimed that 80% of MRSA cases are caught in hospitals, mostly from doctor's clothing.

There have been numerous studies that indicate doctors’ ties are often colonized with bacteria. One study found that 20% of physician neckties tested were contaminated with S. aureus. Older studies that compared the difference in contaminated levels between bow ties and neckties found little difference between the two over time. It is believed that because neckties are rarely laundered, they may be responsible for transmitting drug-resistant bacteria. Other countries, including the U.K., have already adopted the “bare below the elbow” rule for healthcare workers due to concerns about transmitting infectious disaseses.

Klein suggested that there is a financial incentive for physicians to adopt the proposed dress code changes. According to his website, New York has the highest medical malpractice insurance costs in the nation. Between 1999 and 2004, the cumulative premium increase was 147%, an average yearly increase of 27%. Those costs are the result of jury awards being paid out to preventable medical mistakes, a category that includes hospital-borne infections, it said.

Healthcare professionals were quick to downplay the proposal. "In light of the many clinically based infection-control programs hospitals already have in place, this bill is impractical at best and probably impossible to enforce," Brian Conway, spokesman for the Greater New York Hospital Association, told the Democrat and Chronicle.