Objective: This study investigated whether doctors' attire influences the perception of empathy in the patient-doctor relationship during a therapeutic encounter.
Methods: A total number of 143 patients were divided into four groups when they were consulting a Traditional Korean Medicine doctor. Depending on the group, the same doctor was wearing four different attires--Casual, Suit, Traditional dress, White coat--when having a clinical consultation with the patients.
Results: The patients preferred white coat and traditional dress more than other attires, giving highest scores to white coat in competency, trustworthiness and preference of attire and to traditional dress in comfortableness and contentment with the consultation. The "Consultation and Relational Empathy (CARE)" score was significantly higher in the "White coat" and "Traditional" groups, compared to the "Casual" and "Suit" groups.
Conclusion: The strong association between the patients' preference of doctors' attire and the CARE score indicates that the doctor's attire plays not only an important role for establishing confidence and trustworthiness but also for the perception of empathy in the patient-doctor relationship.
Practice implications: The doctor's attire can function as an effective tool of non-verbal communication in order to signal confidence, trust and empathy and establish a good patient-doctor relationship.
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