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Evolution of Patient Gowns (Part 1)

A look at design changes, different materials used

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.”   

CHANGES IN DESIGN, MATERIALS USED

Berg believes patient gowns have made significant improvements in areas such as design, style, comfort and privacy.

“Overlap backs, creative closure methods and front-opening gowns offer new style options for caregivers,” he says. “Most new gowns being introduced in the market today have an acceptable fabric weight that allows patient comfort as well as privacy due to increased opacity.”

In addition, Berg says new synthetic and synthetic blend fabrics have allowed manufacturers to incorporate color schemes and designs that resist fading in the laundering process, allowing a move away from the institutional look of traditional patient gown prints.

Synthetic blends, softer fabrics, brighter and more stain- and fade-resistant prints and designs, and better coverage (while still allowing for fast and easy clinical access) will be the new normal in patient apparel, adds Joe Przepiorka, vice president of marketing for Encompass Group LLC, a manufacturer of healthcare textiles and products. Synthetic knit gown usage is on the rise, too.

Richard Stewart, corporate vice president of platform development at Standard Textile Co. Inc., adds that upscale fabrics (similar to those found in the retail market) and features that allow easier and faster gowning have become available. Other areas that have received attention in recent years include expanded options for bariatric, mental health and risk of elopement identity.

“Countless new designs have been presented to the marketplace over the past couple of years that provide improved modesty and patient coverage,” says Dan Schwartz, vice president of Fashion Seal Healthcare, part of the Superior Group of Companies. 

Schwartz says Fashion Seal regularly takes measures to improve fabric hand, creating softer, more comfortable fabrics, increase opacity, increase coverage, and provide gowns that allow patients to feel comfortable in any healthcare setting. 

“Modesty has always been top of mind at Medline when it comes to our patient apparel,” shares Burke. “Our gowns have full tie-side closures to make it easy to reach for the patient and ensures complete coverage. Our gowns also feature stylish patterns with IV sleeves and plastic snaps. Medline’s plastic snaps are MRI compliant and ensures the patient will not have to switch to a different gown for imaging.”

There has been a gradual effort to streamline the patient gown offering, notes Berg.  

“Rather than purchase, inventory, launder and distribute a different gown style to each user area, it makes sense to combine gown styles into a gown that can service multiple areas within the healthcare setting,” he points out. 

Historically, Stewart says most patient gowns have been made using a woven fabric with a blend of cotton and polyester that was constructed and finished to perform well during the institutional laundry process. 

“In recent years, many manufacturers have introduced an all-polyester fabric option, which has the look and feel of a traditional, familiar woven cloth and the added benefit of superior performance,” he says. “These fabrics will typically have minimal shrinkage and excellent durability and color retention, which translate into an extended service life for the products, reduced waste generation and lower merchandise replacement expense.”  

Check back Thursday to learn about properly processing today’s gowns.