A New Era of Hospital Gowns Emerges

May 22, 2009 08:01 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
The hospital gown, a long hated and embarrassing aspect of medical care in America, is currently under reconstruction thanks to patients and researchers around the country.

Gowns in Need of Improvement

In Idaho and North Carolina, patients are praising new hospital gown designs that do away with the dreaded open back. Many in the medical field are surprised at how long it has taken for changes to be implemented.

In Boise, registered nurse Carleen Egbert teamed with anesthesiologist Brian Kerr to design a gown that parts at each side and is tied in the front with a sash. Nearly four years after the two came up with the idea, the initial shipment containing 150,000 gowns is en route from China to the United States.

The gowns will not only give patients more privacy, they’ll also make it easier for doctors and nurses to access“parts of patients’ bodies that are blocked by traditional gowns, especially if patients are double-gowned,” according to the Idaho Statesman.

The Wall Street Journal reported that medical historians think the modern day gowns “evolved from nightshirts patients wore in hospitals in the 1800s.” Various incarnations of that era's open-back style have been around since the 1920s. “Nobody is happy with it,” Blanton Godfrey, dean of North Carolina State University's College of Textiles, told the Journal.

Although some medical professionals contend that there are much more pressing issues facing American health care today, it is important to note that some Muslim patients in Portland, Maine, “were so distressed” by the typical gown design that they skipped doctor’s appointments, the Journal reported. In response, Portland's Maine Medical Center started offering Muslim patients “a modest floor-length ‘sarong’” type of gown.

If there’s any doubt that this is a real issue of concern for the medical profession and all who rely on it, consider that the University of Cincinnati is hosting a medical gown fashion show on June 12. The options include gowns that can “all be created from one pattern—a practice that would cut down on waste and inefficiency,” according to Medgadget.

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Background: Hospital gown makeovers

In North Carolina, textile design professor Traci Lamar of North Carolina State University is hard at work creating “a more comfortable, less revealing hospital garment,” reports The News & Observer of Raleigh. Her new and improved gowns are expected to hit the market in approximately two years.

Lamar explained to the paper that the current gowns in use are “undignified and immodest,” and have led patients to feel “mortified at the thought of getting out of the bed.”

And in New Jersey, former cancer patient Brenda Jones has created “Hug Wraps,” cozier versions of hospital gowns in bright colors that are lined in flannel, which she makes by hand with “donated fabric and thread.” She hopes to make the gowns affordable for many hospitals; one in Pennsylvania, The Charles A. and Betty Bott Cancer Center at Holy Redeemer Hospital and Medical Center, has shown strong interest.

Jones, who works as a veterinary technician and pet sitter, told The Times of Trenton that her loftiest dream “is to find someone that can help me get these mass produced.”

Related Topic: Patient-centered hospital design

An emerging field called “evidence-based hospital design” stems from new research showing “ways that design can reduce medical errors, infections and falls,” The New York Times reported. As a result, semi-private rooms are becoming a thing of the past in some hospitals, as studies indicate the benefits of single rooms on patient stress levels and sleep quality.

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