Medical centers are giving the bum’s rush to conventional hospital gowns.
Following months of study, officials with Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park have decided to adopt new hospital gowns that feature sharper colors, a different mix of fabrics and a design that aims to keep patient posteriors under wraps.
The key difference: Patients tie new gowns closer to their sides, so there’s less straining with knots at the middle of their backs. In focus groups, patients told hospital officials they feel exposed with current hospital gowns.
“They had a gown on that did not fully cover them,” said Christa Getchell, president of a foundation that’s connected to Methodist. “Sometimes the color was so faded that it was see-through. At other times, their backsides were hanging out, and they were cold. And so they felt vulnerable.”
The hospital-wide switch at Methodist will take place Feb. 21. It’s one of several transitions across the Twin Cities over the coming year at hospitals and clinics in the Allina, Fairview and HealthPartners systems.
Methodist Hospital is part of Bloomington-based HealthPartners, which expects to introduce the gowns at Regions Hospital in St. Paul during the third quarter.
The gowns already have been introduced at three hospitals in the Minneapolis-based Allina Health System, which expects to add them at more hospitals over the next six weeks.
The hospitals rent gowns from Health Systems Cooperative Laundries, a St. Paul-based service that also washes the garments. The laundry service is in the process of buying 100,000 new hospital gowns at a cost of about $500,000, said Larry Hilton, the general manager with Health Systems Cooperative Laundry.
Hospitals will see savings over time, Hilton said, even though each new gown costs roughly $1 more than a conventional garment.
The new gowns should last longer that the 40-wash life cycle with current garments, thereby lowering replacement costs. Plus, the new gowns weigh less, which will help hospitals in terms of their by-the-pound pricing agreements for laundering.
With the switch, hospitals expect to save 4 cents per pound in their laundry costs. That’s a significant reduction, said A. Blanton Godfrey, a professor in the college of textiles at North Carolina State University.
Godfrey published a report in 2009 that found hospitals spend anywhere from 26 cents to 60 cents per pound in laundering costs.
“Hospitals die for 10 to 20 percent savings,” said Godfrey, who has worked for the past decade on a project promoting innovative designs in hospitals gowns.
Tie-in-the-back gowns have been used in hospitals for decades, Godfrey said, with the original design dating to 1910. The backside slit that can be embarrassing for patients makes for easy use of bedpans, he said.
Godfrey estimates that hospitals across the country spend nearly $100 million per year on hospital gowns. In 2015, a North Carolina-based hospital supplier called Premier Inc. put the figure at roughly $85 million.
Starting in 2006, a team at North Carolina State started developing a new design for hospital gowns, but Godfrey said it’s taken years to convince medical centers to make the upfront investment needed for innovation. “A hospital might charge you $1,000 a day for your room, but they want to keep the gown under 10 cents,” he said. “They are buying on price.”
The road to new hospital gowns at Methodist Hospital started with focus groups in 2010 and 2011, followed by a fundraiser that featured a runway show. The contest spotlighted an innovative gown from designers at the University of Minnesota, but Getchell said it took several years to advance the project.
The hospital and laundry service cooperated on a study of new gowns that was launched in 2015, and helped document patient preferences for new garments. The new blend of fabrics is softer, and the blue-green color is a vibrant contrast with the washed-out look of the past, said Roxanna Gapstur, the president of Methodist Hospital.
“The other feature that patients really liked was just the wrap style,” Gapstur said. “There’s a bit more of a wrap to these gowns, and they can tie on the side, which sort of eliminates that drafty open-back piece that’s been very traditionally part of the hospital gown.”
At Methodist, 1,000 new gowns will be stocked on carts and in cabinets Tuesday to make the transition. That’s about how many gowns are used each day across the Methodist campus, which includes specialty centers and clinics.
“Anything worthwhile is worth waiting for,” said Getchell, president of the Park Nicollet Foundation. “The results of the study are worth the time spent.”