It's safe to say that the traditional hospital gown takes a lot of abuse.

It's "universally despised by patients," said Leslie Ziegler of Rock Health, a San Francisco consulting firm. The way it hangs open in the back can make anyone feel exposed and vulnerable. And the design hasn't changed much in a century.

That's why Ziegler and her colleagues thought it would be a perfect topic for this week's Mayo Clinic "Transform 2012" conference, which is all about rethinking the practice of health care.

Walking into a breakout session called "Health Startup Boot Camp," I expected a panel discussion. Instead, we were told to sit in circles and were given an assignment: To re-invent "the hospital gown experience."

The conference drew a mix of medical staff, designers and business types, all talking about ways to think outside the box.

Here was their chance.

Passing around samples of the drab old model, which costs about $3, we started asking what we might do differently. How about snaps on the side to avoid the dreaded backside exposure? Fabric that's softer, warmer or disposable. "How far outside the box can we go?" one man asked.

Someone suggested color-coding gowns to identify patients at risk for falling, or DNR (do not resuscitate). But what if they run out of the right color?

After brainstorming, my team settled on "DignityWear," the first recyclable, antimicrobial hospital gown, with its own cellphone pocket.

Other groups came up with the "Wown," made of "sumptuous flannel." The "emPower Suit," with built-in Bluetooth technology to take your blood pressure. And "Care Capes" to cover, not replace, the old gown where it really matters. "So it's like a gown accessory," said one of the judges.

In the main hall at Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, speakers talked about re-inventing health care in bigger ways. But as my team discovered, small things matter, too. "If somebody starts this company," one member joked, "I hope we get some kind of residual."