MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In a few minutes, we're going to be talking about changes at New York Fashion Week. But first, a hospital garment is getting a makeover. The hospital gown. You know, those loosey-goosey ties, a back that leaves you feeling exposed. It's all a kind of vulnerability that can make patients feel worse. But now there's a new gown on the scene, and it's designers hope they will succeed where no one else has. NPR's Andrew Limbong explains.
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: It's roomy without my swimming in it.
It's got pockets here?
I'm at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center, a hospital in suburban Maryland trying on their new gowns. It opens and closes in the front with color coded ties.
The sleeves hit right at the elbow. There's these, like, snaps here if they need.
Plastic snaps run from shoulder to elbow for IV access, lots of room to poke and prod. But is it enough?
FREDERICK FINELLI: For me, as a doctor, it would be best to have the patient naked.
LIMBONG: That's Dr. Frederick Finelli, surgeon and a vice president here at MedStar Montgomery.
FINELLI: Because then I wouldn't have to deal with any gowns or any cloth in my way. But for the patient, I mean, they basically want the opposite. You know, they'd like to be covered up.
LIMBONG: Take Jimena Ryan.
JIMENA RYAN: And you're always wondering, what is open? What's flapping? You know, what view am I (laughter) giving? So...
LIMBONG: She's a patient here, in for abdominal surgery. She's wearing one of the new gowns, and she's into it.
RYAN: I really like the front tie. I have many dresses for work that come together the same way. So it's intuitive to put it together, and the fact that it's not open in the back is a big relief.
LIMBONG: This new gown was made by a medical clothing company called Care+Wear, which teamed up with a class at the Parsons School of Design to iron out the kinks of making a new robe, how to make it more appealing to patients without sacrificing efficiency. They're not the first to take a crack at this problem. Back in 1999, a hospital in Hackensack got designer Nicole Miller to make gowns, robes and pajama bottoms.
In 2010, the Cleveland Clinic recruited Diane von Furstenberg to help develop a new gown modeled after her famous wrap around dresses. In 2014, the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit teamed up with Carhartt to make a robe they dubbed the Model G. And yet, the open-backs johnny gown still remains the industry standard. Here's why.
BRIDGET DUFFY: Hospitals are not designed for patients.
LIMBONG: That's Dr. Bridget Duffy. She's the chief medical officer of Vocera, a hospital communications company. More importantly, for this story, she was the chief experience officer at the Cleveland Clinic, the one with the Diane von Furstenberg gown which the clinic still uses today. She helped consult on this new Care+Wear design too. She says, for the most part, hospitals haven't changed the gowns they used because hospitals are too busy. There's too much on their plate to deal with the seemingly small-fry problem. Your usual bureaucratic inertia. But mostly...
DUFFY: In the past, we never had patients in the room at the very beginning of a design process.
LIMBONG: She sees hope for this new design because they took it to patients first, asked what they needed, what they hated - that sort of thing. Professor Traci Lamar teaches at North Carolina State University in the College of Textiles. She had a hand in a gown redesign back in 2009, and to her, the cost-benefit analysis isn't going to tip in favor of more hospitals changing gowns until the gowns have something more to offer than coverage.
TRACI LAMAR: There's more value coming with the apparel item if it also becomes something that replaces or enhances other equipment that's used in the hospital environment.
LIMBONG: Like a gown that can also keep an eye on your blood pressure or measure your heart rate. While the gowns at MedStar don't offer that, they do have another bonus feature. Hospital patient Jimena Ryan figured that if she snapped off the middle buttons on her sleeve, it looks kind of like a cold shoulder blouse. That's one of those shirts with the shoulders cut out.
RYAN: Right? They can be a little fashionable even in the hospital.
LIMBONG: If the gown fits the needs of patients and providers, MedStar could roll it out to its nine other hospitals. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.
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