April 19, 2013 at 8:19 AM ET
It’s not exactly a cure for cancer, but it’s big news for patients, nonetheless. Finally, someone’s designed a decent hospital gown.
“It’s warmer, it closes in the front, it’s much easier to put on and patients feel much more secure and have a sense of privacy which is nice,” says Michael Forbes, product designer for the Henry Ford Innovation Institute and lead designer on the project.
The new gown, which looks more like a wraparound bathrobe, is currently being used at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. In addition to being made of thicker material to keep patients warmer, the gown closes with snaps instead of ties and is adjustable to fit both large and small patients.
The big news, of course, is the back of the gown: there is one.
Forbes and his team used patient questionnaires to guide their design. The biggest complaint by far, he says, was the open back.
“[Patients] absolutely despised the old one,” he says. “The existing gowns don’t give you a sense of dignity. You’re already in the hospital and have people sticking you with needles and violating your personal space, your bubble, because they’re trying to take care of you. The new back gives the patient a sense of privacy.”
It also allows for easy access with regard to IVs, medical lines and other clinical necessities.
“There’s an access flap from your neck to your lower back,” says Forbes, who credits three students at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies with initiating the project. “It allows you to check for vitals and breathing and the like. But it closes. If you need access, you reach in.”
Kelsey Jenison, health education supervisor at Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle says she hears a fair amount of complaints about gowns from patients.
“They’re cold, they’re not very thick and you feel exposed in them,” she says. “The new gown looks like something at a spa. It looks like it will promote wellness. Mentally, it might help patients get out of the mind frame of being at a hospital.”
Rachel Alquist, a 34-year-old sales manager from Seattle, points out that the current design isn’t exactly practical, especially when you consider the state some patients are in.
“I was at the ER and was pretty much non-coherent because of the pain and the pain meds and I had to go to the bathroom,” she says. “I had a gown on but no robe and I just walked down this long hall with my butt hanging out. There were people on gurneys who got a full show. I was just so out of it. My mom just waved and watched me go. Patient gowns are the worst.”
So far, patient response to the new hospital gown has been very positive, says Forbes, who hopes to license the design to an existing manufacturer so it can be produced and sold nationwide.
Manufacturing cost is comparable to the old gown, he says, although he believes hospitals may actually be able to save money with the new design.
“In our research we found that patients often use two gowns to cover up,” he says. “Which defeats the whole purpose. With a design that covers the back and front, you’re using only one per patient. You can reduce the amount of gowns you need in inventory and you can reduce the amount of laundry.”
Diane Mapes is a frequent contributor at nbcnews.com and TODAY.com. She’s also the author of “How to Date in a Post-Dating World” and writes the breast cancer blog, www.doublewhammied.com.