Why do doctors wear green and blue gowns in the operating room?

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Doctors are often called the “gods in white” because of their white coats. In the operating theater, however, other colors dominate.

Coat, trousers, shirt, and shoes: most doctors wear white clothing. But not surgeons in operating theaters. There, blue-green clothing is the order of the day, but not for fashion reasons. Rather, the colors are intended to make their work easier and improve the chances of a successful operation. We explain.

Blue and green are easy on the eyes of surgical staff. White, on the other hand, strains the eyes. It can be dazzling, especially with the powerful surgical lights, because they reflect the light. This causes the eyes to tire quickly. As operations can last several hours, it is important not to strain the eyes. After all, the surgeons should be able to keep a close eye on the patient until the end of the procedure.

Blue and green surgical colors also help reduce the so-called afterimage effect. This occurs when you look at a colored object for a long time and then focus your eyes on a white surface. An afterimage then appears in the complementary color of the original object.

“These are optical illusions,” explains Philippe de Gottrau, Chief Physician at the Department of Ophthalmology at Fribourg Cantonal Hospital (HFR), in a blog post. “Due to the strong light irradiation, what is seen is imprinted in the brain and is reproduced a moment later, even though the field of vision has changed.” The blue-green color of the surgical clothing, on the other hand, is already complementary to the red of the organs and blood, according to HFR. This minimizes the afterimage effect. As a result, the surgeon’s view is less disturbed, which should reduce errors.

Psychologist John Werner from the University of California at Davis told LiveScience.com that another advantage of blue or green clothing is that if people in the operating room look at different shades of red all the time, the boundaries become blurred at some point. It becomes more difficult for them to distinguish between the different organs. However, if they could look at something blue-green in between, this would lead to their eyes refocusing. After that, differentiation would be easier again.

The choice of color also affects the psyche: Green is said to have a calming effect. Blue, on the other hand, radiates calm and is said to increase performance. All aspects are important for surgeons.

The decision to wear blue or green gowns has a practical side effect. Because surgical clothing is different in color from normal hospital clothing, it can be easily distinguished from the latter. Among other things, this ensures that the gowns are cleaned correctly. The surgical textiles must be sterile so that no germs enter open wounds.

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