Super bugs

Short Sleeves to fight Germs

The hospital chain Asklepios plans to get rid of the traditional long-sleeved white coat, arguing that doing so will help fight infections. Experts are skeptical.

von Hristio Boytchev


Amidst fresh publicity, the hospital chain Asklepios announced it wants to put away the long-sleeved white coat. The chain’s doctors will wear short sleeves in the future. Their reasoning? Germs could stick to the long sleeves of a doctor’s clothing and be transferred from patient to patient.

Asklepios cites recommendations from experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Robert-Koch-Institute, Germany’s national agency for infection control. 

A nice side effect of the measure would be incredible cost savings. The new short-sleeved coats are cheaper and could save hospitals millions of Euros. 

If the advantages are so compelling, why haven’t more hospitals ditched the long sleeves?

Because doctors are accustomed to their white coats. They are a convention, a uniform that provides security and authority. Plus the effect of long-sleeved coats on hygiene is not as clear as Asklepios claims. Countries like England and Holland have gotten rid of doctors’ long sleeves, but the measures are still controversial. Several studies fail to show a clear effect of short-sleeved coats on infection rates.

“German hospitals would be well off to first implement measures which have proven to be effective“, says Petra Gastmeier, director of the Institute of Hygiene at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin. Short-sleeved white coats don’t belong in that category, she says.

There is also confusion surrounding official recommendations of short sleeves. German newspapers widely reported that the Robert-Koch-Institute recommended doctors wear short sleeves. 

The institute told us that there is no such recommendation. Meanwhile, dpa, Germany’s press agency, corrected a news story where they attributed the recommendation to the Robert-Koch-Institute.

The WHO has not yet replied to our question of whether they recommend short sleeves. Asklepios quotes a document by the organization that reads: „Although evidence to formulate it as a recommendation is limited, long sleeves should be avoided.“

“I am not against the measure“, says Gastmeier, „but I am against the hype.“