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This may seem like a small complaint for patients to hate on, all things considered, but there's no wonder hospital gowns seem to be universally reviled.

April 09, 2015

Spending any amount of time in a hospital is hard enough, but then on top of everything else, you also have to wear one of those flimsy hospital gowns.

It may seem like a small complaint for patients to hate on, all things considered, but there's no wonder the gowns seem to be universally reviled. For one, it's dehumanizing to be forced to wear a standard-issue hospital gown when what you'd love to put on is your favorite pair of pajamas. The gowns are also demeaning (that open-back thing that leaves you exposed comes to mind) and let's face it, they're unfashionable, which is not what you want when you're probably not looking your best and a surprising number of people are swinging by to bring you flowers and wish you well. It's just the cherry on top of the "this sucks" sundae.

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Until, maybe now: More and more hospitals are starting to take comfort into consideration by dressing patients in (slightly) more dignified gowns, according to a report from Kaiser Health News. Hospitals are re-evaluating the gowns in an effort to boost patient reviews and therefore pad the bottom line. (Happy patients can mean more money because The Affordable Care Act is putting more pressure on The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to take patient satisfaction into account when deciding the size of Medicare payments hospitals get.)

In fact, the makeover has been in the works for years. The Cleveland Clinic's CEO met Diane von Furstenberg, creator of the iconic wrap dress, at a networking conference in 2007, leading to the reveal of designer patient gowns at the hospital's Patient Experience Summit in 2010.

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The Von Furstenberg creation, which debuted at the clinic in 2013, is reversible with a front and back V-neck and pockets. The fabric was softer and featured a bold print pattern featuring the Cleveland Clinic logo, and, yes, there's butt coverage! “People felt much more comfortable in the new design, not just physically but emotionally," Adrienne Boissy, chief experience officer at the Cleveland Clinic, told Kaiser Health News.

Now other hospitals are taking a crack at it. The Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System gave hospital gowns the Project Runway treatment last fall, after asking students at the city's College for Creative Studies to come up with solutions. In November, the institute unveiled the new gowns, made of a warm cotton blend that wrap around the body like a robe. When the institute tested the designs, they reportedly discovered that patient satisfaction scores had increased.

But giving a do-over to the original design can be challenging, to say the least. While patients need to be comfortable, health care workers need to have easy access during exams (translation: the gown needs to open and close easily).

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What’s more, gowns need to be easily mass-manufactured, as well as laundered. When Valley Hospital of Ridgewood, New Jersey, switched to pajamas and gowns that offered more coverage, they saw their operating costs go up by $70,000 per year because the new garments cost more to purchase and to clean, Kaiser Health News reported.

And money isn’t the only thing that matters: Patients and MDs seem to have very different ideas on what a patient should wear, according to Todd Lee, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at McGill University. Dr. Lee co-authored a 2014 study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine that examined the importance of the gowns and whether patients might be happier wearing pants, instead of (or along with) gowns.

"There are some [physicians] who say, 'Of course we should be doing this, and I never really thought about it, and I can see how it's important,'" Dr. Lee said in a recent interview with ACP Hospitalist. "And then there's another subgroup of physicians who are concerned that potentially important clinical findings could be missed, or that in more significantly ill patients, there could be barriers to managing them during critical illness if they were wearing more substantial attire."

While the experts are still hashing that out, may we suggest some tweaks the hospital menu, as well?

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