Role-deliniated uniforms for hospital employees can help quell some of the stress and confusion patients may already be facing.

Are Your Hospital Employees’ Uniforms Confusing Patients?

Health & Safety Health

Learn about the importance of hospital employees’ uniform policies, and how creating best practices can improve care.

As much as your hospital employees might appreciate the freedom of diversity in what they wear, a uniform policy that’s too lenient might actually be interfering with multiple organizational goals. Your uniform policy is the foundation of critical aspects of the hospital experience for both patients and visitors.

In 2014, 83 percent of people polled admitted it was difficult to identify hospital employees and two-thirds of Americans said that easily identifying them would improve the hospital experience. It’s important to understand the impact that choices around hospital uniforms have on patients and facilities, acknowledge examples of facilities that have made efforts to improve their policies and explore tips regarding your own practices around employee dress.

Defined Uniform Roles Impact Patients

The patient experience matters more than it ever has in health care, and any facility that wants to focus on its patients will pay close attention to how uniforms play into a patient’s visit.

Scrubs and medical uniforms are available in a wide array of styles, patterns and colors, but what amounts to whimsy and creative options for your staff can easily translate into confusion, and even embarrassment, for your patients.

Patients and visitors entering a hospital setting are likely already under considerable stress and discomfort — the last thing they need is the challenge of sorting doctors from nurses from occupational therapists, and possibly walking into a situation where they feel they might have insulted or improperly addressed one of your staff members.

You’ve seen this principle in practice in multiple other settings ranging from police and fire departments to employees at your local grocery store or even national retailers. Take, for example, the Mayo Clinic’s choice to standardize employee dress and require that clothing be uniform across discipline. They even require that the clothing all be ordered from the same vendor. Easy identification is essential to the proper function of organizations that interact with the general public.

How It Affects Facilities

Standardized uniform policies aren’t only about patient comfort. Your facility likely invests quite a bit of time and money in developing and maintaining a positive brand that is looked upon favorably by your medical community. A clear-cut and professional uniform policy for hospital employees helps to reinforce a competent brand for your facility and for your employees as they interact with the rest of the medical world. A well-developed uniform policy can even help reinforce a sense of belonging among your staff.

Uniform choices can also impact you in much deeper ways — specifically via scores on the HCAHPS survey. If you review the survey, you’ll notice that it specifically breaks down service questions into points regarding both doctors and nurses. If staff delineations are unclear and patients are unable to clearly tell who they were interacting with, it’s unlikely that you’ll receive accurate scores — which may be missing out on valuable feedback.

Improving Uniform Policies for Hospital Employees

Many facilities have already started prioritizing their patients’ experiences and moving toward color-coded uniform policies. LewisGale Hospital Pulaski in Virginia, for example, implemented a uniform change that assigns a specific color to each department directly involved with patient care. This was spearheaded by their Nursing Professional Development Council as part of the facility’s Service Excellence program. They tout the fact that their patients are now comfortable knowing exactly who is caring for them and understanding the roles of each staff member moving in and out of their rooms.

When considering similar changes in your facility, it will be essential to understand the challenges you face. You might want to think about either referring to previous surveys of your patients or even conducting new surveys to understand exactly how patients are impacted by your current dress codes.

Once you’ve completed the review, be open with your employees about why you’re considering changes to the dress code. This will be especially important if your staff is used to a dress code where they were allowed free self-expression. Since uniforms can be expensive, consider multiple options, including uniform rental, to reduce the burden on your employees.

Lastly, make sure that all the work you’ve done to create a simple uniform policy is fully translated to your patients and visitors. Include either signage or make brochures available that explain your system and why it helps improve their care results.

Regardless of what uniform solution you choose, make sure to focus on the needs of your patients and communicate openly with your employees. With an improved system, you’re sure to build a policy that creates a better care experience for everyone involved.

Megan Williams
Megan Williams

Megan is a B2B healthcare writer with 10 years experience in hospital consulting, over a decade's work in online content creation, and an MBA.