Most patients want doctors to wear white coats - but medics do not share their enthusiasm, a survey suggests.
White coats are not popular among doctors
The survey of 276 patients and 86 doctors found white coats were over twice as popular among patients than among those in the medical profession.
Patients said they made doctors easy to spot. However, some doctors consider them an infection risk.
The research, by the Royal Free Hospital, London, is published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal.
The preference for white coats was particularly strong among older patients aged 70 and over. Patients aged 30 to 39 were less in favour.
Just 11 patients felt that the wearing of a white coat interfered with the doctor-patient relationship.
However, only one in eight of the doctors surveyed actually wore a white coat. Seven out of 10 doctors felt the coats spread infection while six out of 10 found them too hot and uncomfortable.
Older doctors were more likely to favour the traditional look, as were surgeons and gynaecologists.
Many doctors prefer scrubs
Psychiatrists and paediatricians were the least likely to feel that white coats should be worn.
Half the doctors who felt that white coats should be worn, never wore them. Only seven doctors said they wore their coats every day.
The authors point out that several other groups of healthcare workers wear white coats, so they may not be the best form of identification.
But they suggest that the days of the white coat may not be over.
In the US, white coat "robing ceremonies" are common, while in Australia, there seems to be a movement towards rediscovering the white coat as a symbol of "purpose and pride as a profession".
Mr John Heyworth, an accident and emergency doctor at Southampton General Hospital, said many doctors preferred to wear scrubs outfits, rather than white coats.
"White coats tend to be hot and uncomfortable to wear, and people tend to use them to store unnecessary bits of kit," he said.
"There is also the phenomenon of white coat hypertension where a patient's blood pressure can go soaring when they spot a doctor wearing a white coat.
"We tend to favour scrubs, and not just because we all want to look like the doctors in ER. They are more comfortable and easy to wash - which is important as patients tend to bleed, vomit and do other unspeakable things over doctors.
Mr Heyworth said the key to easy identification was to wear a highly visible ID, not to rely on a white coat.
Dr Ian Banks, a trustee of Developing Patient Partnerships, said: "The traditional doctors white coat may mean different things to different people, for some it may be reassuring whilst for others intimidating.
"As long as there is effective communication between a patient and the doctor it's likely that barriers felt from codes of dress can be easily overcome."