Introduction: In September 2007, the Department of Health published Uniforms and Workwear: an Evidence Base for Guiding Local Policy. Following this, most National Health Service trusts imposed a 'bare below the elbow' dress code policy, with clinical staff asked to remove ties, wristwatches and hand jewellery and to wear short-sleeved tops. There is currently no evidence linking dress code to the transmission of hospital-acquired infection. We designed the current survey to assess patients' perceptions of doctors' appearance, with specific reference to the 'bare below the elbow' policy.
Materials and methods: A questionnaire showing photographs of a doctor in three different types of attire ('scrubs', formal attire and 'bare below the elbow') were used to gather responses from 80 in-patients and 80 out-patients in the ENT department. Patients were asked which outfit they felt was the most hygienic, the most professional and the easiest identification of the person as a doctor. They were also asked to indicate their overall preference.
Results and analysis: Formal attire was considered most professional and the easiest identification that the person was a doctor. Scrubs were considered most hygienic. Respondents' overall preference was divided between scrubs and formal clothes. 'Bare below the elbow' attire received the lowest votes in all categories.
Discussion: This finding raises significant questions about the Department of Health policy in question. The authors suggest that an alternative policy should be considered, with scrubs worn for in-patient situations and formal attire during out-patient encounters.