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Evolution of Patient Gowns (Part 2)

How to properly process today’s gowns

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.” 

PROCESSING TODAY’S GOWNS PROPERLY

New synthetic and synthetic-rich blend fabrics process differently than traditional cotton-blend fabrics, points out Berg.  

“These new gown fabrics dry faster, wrinkle less and retain color better than their cotton-blend counterparts, but they aren’t bullet-proof,” he says. 

Attention to proper sorting as well as adherence to manufacturer suggested care instructions (particularly drying) must be addressed to achieve peak performance, Berg shares.

“The move to synthetic and synthetic-rich fabrics should add up to easier processing, quicker drying and less energy use for laundries,” says Joe Przepiorka, vice president of marketing for Encompass Group LLC. “The greater stain resistance of the new fabrics should lessen rewash and ragout amounts, as well.”

Today’s synthetic fabrics are also much more durable than a cotton-blended fabric, more stain resistant and more colorfast, he shares. This all adds up to less rewash, less ragout, less retirement due to color fades and higher use cycles.

“Today’s gowns definitely last longer with the advent of microfiber patient gowns and 100% polyester gowns as opposed to the standard cotton-poly blend,” Kahen says. “Of course, the fibers that compose these items are more expensive than standard cotton, so there needs to be a cost benefit analysis, but microfiber has been tested to last sometimes five to 10 times longer than the standard cotton/poly gown. 

“The way they are made is the secret to the longevity of these items.”

Chuck Rossmiller, director of laundry programs for Medline Industries Inc., says that gowns are heavier than they were previously, which means slightly longer processing times and some adjustment to how they’re folded.  

“The newest gown innovations are in the material being all-synthetic fibers, which are longer lasting and faster drying,” he says. “Some facilities are treating gowns like uniforms—the gowns are hangered, steam tunnel finished and automatically folded. The quality and consistency of the finished product is substantially enhanced, and the automation reduces labor cost.”

Rossmiller adds that as gowns have gotten larger, and heavier, they take up more space on carts and shelves. 

“So, where a stack used to contain 18-20 gowns, it may now be 15,” he points out. “Conversely, though, the larger, heavier gowns, with consistent prints, are leading to the use of fewer gowns as patients don’t need to be double gowned to achieve an acceptable level of modesty.”

Dan Schwartz, vice president of Fashion Seal Healthcare, part of the Superior Group of Companies, agrees that fabric technology has come a long way over the last decade, allowing patient gowns to have more endurance than they have in the past. 

“Such advancements have allowed patient apparel suppliers to produce polyester-rich garments that have more durability, but are still able to maintain a soft fabric hand,” he says. “Patients are comfortable in these garments, and due to the higher polyester content and printing techniques, gowns tend to last longer than cotton-rich sheeting gowns.

“From a visual standpoint, the synthetic fabrics will be more stain resistant than before, so the gowns will look cleaner longer. The colorfastness of the synthetic printing process will also allow for a brighter, newer look for longer.” 

This combination will offer a “new-looking” gown deeper into its life cycle, and a better presentation to the patient and staff, according to Przepiorka. 

In addition to style, comfort and processing changes, he adds that the emergence of knit gowns and no-fold linen systems allow for unfolded gowns to be delivered in bags instead of stacked and folded on shelves. 

“However, knit gowns are still a fraction of the overall market use, so this is more of an emerging trend to watch than a market shift,” he cautions. 

When it comes to the concern about achieving sanitary healthcare linens, manufacturers indicate that healthcare laundries do a good job no matter what fabric type or blend it used.

“There has been some controversy in the literature about which fabric blends (cotton vs. synthetic) ‘hold’ more microbes after processing,” says Przepiorka. “Our position is that if either blend is properly processed to a hygienic state, this discussion is moot.”

“Like synthetic uniforms, cotton and cotton blended materials have shown to harbor more bacteria, particularly from skin shed from the users,” adds Rossmiller. “All synthetic products improve the wash process time, withstand the commercial process better, maintain the color, size and shape, making them more consistently clean. 

“Certified healthcare laundry providers will consistently achieve hygienically clean products regardless of the type of material.”

Miss Part 1 on changes in design and materials? Click here to read it, and check back Tuesday for the conclusiong about the future of patient gowns.