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Evolution of Patient Gowns (Conclusion)

The future of patient gown design, function

CHICAGO — The patient gown.

It seems simple enough—a garment someone being treated or cared for in a healthcare facility wears to offer covering, yet allow medical personnel access for tests and treatments.

It is what it is, isn’t it? Well, no.

“The introduction of the HCAHPS patient satisfaction survey has put a focus on the patient experience in the healthcare setting,” says Steve Berg, vice president of national healthcare accounts for ADI American Dawn in Los Angeles. “Patients and their families will now place a grade on their stay and their entire experience. These surveys will influence the reimbursement rates the healthcare facility receives. 

“This relationship between patient experience and hospital earnings will allow an increase in quality for all goods associated with the patient, especially what she/he is wearing.” 

Teri Burke, senior product manager of patient apparel for Medline Industries Inc., says that studies show that upgraded linens greatly improve patient satisfaction during their stay at the hospital—and that includes the patient gown.  

“Whether it’s a simple X-ray or major surgery, one of a patient’s first contact with a facility is the gown they wear,” she says. 

Burke goes on to say that healthcare customers not only want better material, but they are also looking to create gowns that show customization and branding as well. Custom designs and quality fabrics are powerful touch points. They can help attract and keep consumers by making their experience more comfortable, personal and caring. 

“As the years have passed, we have listened to our consumers and have made changes for design and style, patient comfort, and patient privacy,” says Sami Kahen of Royal Blue International, an importer and domestic manufacturer of institutional linen items in Los Angeles. 

“Although there are a lot of gowns still around with the standard string closure, there have been advancements in patient privacy with new snap designs and larger sweep sized gowns to protect patient privacy with larger coverage.” 

FUTURE OF PATIENT GOWN DESIGN, FUNCTION

“I don’t have enough fingers and hands to count all the recent instances of fashion designers, design students, and individual doctors and nurses, among others, who have claimed they have come up with a new patient gown design that will make the ‘ole open-butt gown’ a thing of the past,” says Joe Przepiorka, vice president of marketing for Encompass Group LLC. “They have all failed.”  

He says the problem is that the “inventors” don’t really understand the full use cycle of a garment, how it is used and cared for along its travels, and what facilities and laundries would be willing to pay. 

“The requirements of inpatient and outpatient use, institutional laundering, and donning and doffing by anyone (without instruction) make the overly-simple current design enduring if not endearing,” Przepiorka adds.

That said, he believes there will be continued tweaks to the traditional gown design that include the fabric changes already shared and minor design changes, such as better coverage and closure options, and more clinical features, such as access slits and pocket redesign.

The other promising trend he says to watch is smart-fabric technologies, which are still years from mass market. 

“This might allow for vital signs and other diagnostic measure features to be built into the gown, or act as accessories to gowns,” says Przepiorka. “The trend is starting now with wearables such as wrist bands and watches.” 

“With sensors embedded directly into the gown fabrics, monitoring would be much less visible or obtrusive to the patient, creating a better environment for treatment and healing,” says Richard Stewart, corporate vice president of platform development at Standard Textile Co. Inc. “Vitals such as blood pressure, heart rate, pulse rate, and fetal vitals could potentially be monitored wirelessly. Other areas of current research include smart textile technology for wound care and drug-based released systems.”  

Przepiorka says another trend to watch is the change in patient apparel similar to the changes in athletic apparel to performance-oriented features, such as cooling, wicking, odor control and compression therapy. 

Dan Schwartz, vice president of Fashion Seal Healthcare, part of the Superior Group of Companies, agrees that there will continue to be rapid advancements in fabric technology which will subsequently affect patient apparel offerings in the future. 

“We anticipate ourselves, as well as other patient apparel suppliers, expanding offerings to cover all acute and non-acute healthcare settings,” he shares. “We are frequently looking at new designs that not only help to address the healthcare system’s needs and new monitoring technology but address the needs of our laundry partners from a processing standpoint as well.” 

Rossmiller adds that material for all healthcare textiles continue to evolve to make products that improve patient comfort and facility value.  

“The industry has wanted better patient gowns for years,” Berg says. “Every year it seems some major news outlet runs an op-ed piece complaining about patient gowns and wondering why they can’t be constructed differently, better, nicer, more dignified, etc. 

“My answer is because the cost-benefit analysis hadn’t progressed to the point of making a change. But if it hasn’t so far, it shortly will. In fact, it already has.”

Miss Part 1 on changes in design and materials? Click here to read it. To read Part 2 on how to process today’s gowns, click here.