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Patients don’t care if physicians have tattoos or piercings, study finds

Patients don’t care if physicians have tattoos or piercings, study finds

By Megan Knowles for Becker’s Hospital Review

Although hospitals may aim to control how providers visually present themselves to patients, whether a physician has visible tattoos or piercings did not affect patient satisfaction levels, a study published in Emergency Medicine Journal found.

“We were inspired to conduct this study because hospitals have many rules around what constitutes ‘professionalism’ and some of these rules are excessively stringent and outdated when compared to the general public,” study co-author Holly Stankewicz, DO, told ABC News. “We set out to see in this case whether patients actually cared about whether their doctor had a tattoo or a piercing, specifically if it affected how they experienced their care, and whether it negatively affected how they perceived their doctor.”

Five things to know:

  1. Physicians in the study chose to wear (artificial) non-traditional piercings, stick-on tattoos, neither, or both for nine months while seeing patients each day. The study gathered data from five physicians, including males, females, residents and attending physicians.
    For example, since one physician had real tattoos on both arms, he covered them with a white coat on days he chose to have “no art or piercings.” The physicians were dressed in standard blue scrubs during the study.
  2. The researchers surveyed 924 patients about satisfaction with their care. They asked patients to rate the physicians’ competence, professionalism, empathy, approachability, trustworthiness and reliability. Patients were unaware of the study’s purpose.
  3. For each of the five physicians included in the study, the survey revealed no difference in how patients perceived their competence, comfort, professionalism or approachability, regardless of tattoos or piercings.
  4. Patients rated the physicians positively on all surveyed qualities 75 percent of the time. There was no statistically significant difference between days physicians wore a tattoo or piercing compared to days they did not. Ratings did not change if the patients were older or younger than age 50, or between men and women. Participants were not asked whether they disapproved of body art or had it themselves.
  5. Dr. Stankewicz thinks the study will help change perceptions of body art. “At our center, I think it was helpful to change perceptions in both the administration and physicians and staff in general,” Dr. Stankewicz told ABC News.