Healthcare News & Insights

Are new hospital gowns the key to patient satisfaction?

Hospitals have tried many ideas to improve patient satisfaction scores, from total redesigns of facilities to an overhaul of their menus. But one idea that hasn’t been explored much is now making news: Changing the look of the hospital gown.

ThinkstockPhotos-78743720Talk to almost any person who’s been a patient at a hospital, and you’ll find a practically universal hatred of the hospital gown. Patients who are already feeling sick and vulnerable report feeling even worse as they change into the paper-thin, ill-fitting garments that rarely close properly.

However, the traditional hospital gown may soon be a thing of the past. A Kaiser Health News article describes the efforts of a few hospitals to transform the traditional hospital gown into something a bit more comfortable for patients.

‘Designer’ gowns

One of the first hospitals to change the design of its patient gowns was Cleveland Clinic. Inspired by its CEO, who heard many patient complaints about hospital gowns as a practicing surgeon, the hospital began doing research about how it could create a better hospital gown.

With the help of fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, the hospital debuted its new and improved hospital gown in 2010. The full body garment was reversible, with a V-neck on each side, and full coverage in the front and back. Made of soft fabric, the gowns also had bold print patterns and pockets.

Reviews were overwhelmingly positive. Patients felt more comfortable wearing the new gowns, which boosted their morale throughout their hospital stay.

Immediate results

Following Cleveland Clinic’s lead, Henry Ford Health System in Detroit also revamped its hospital gowns. Students at the nearby College of Creative Studies inspired the health system to take on the project after it asked them to identify a big hospital problem and present a solution. The students chose uncomfortable hospital gowns and suggested a more patient-friendly design.

After three years of work, the hospital’s innovation institute came up with a workable design this past fall. The new, warmer gown is made of a cotton blend that wraps around patients’ bodies, similar to a bathrobe. And it comes in two colors: navy and light blue.

The effort paid off almost immediately. Just a few days after the gowns were distributed to patients, patient satisfaction scores started to increase.

Challenges & positives

While new hospital gowns may be the wave of the future, challenges exist when it comes to updating their design. Even with any design changes, the gowns still need to offer clinical staff the appropriate access during patient exams. They also need to be easily manufactured in large quantities and machine-washable for reuse.

And, of course, there’s always resistance to change. According to Todd Lee, a researcher who conducted a fall 2014 study about hospital gowns that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, several providers he spoke with didn’t like the idea of a new hospital gown simply because they were used to treating patients wearing the standard ones.

Despite the challenges, looking into using different, less revealing hospital gowns may be worthwhile to hospitals. Because patient satisfaction scores are poised to play a bigger role in hospitals’ reimbursement as time goes on, any cost investment into changing the gowns’ design now could pay off in the long run.

And it may have even more far-reaching effects than just boosting satisfaction scores. It could have a ripple effect that may even reduce readmissions.

Here’s why: Patients wearing the new, improved hospital gowns report that they felt more valued by hospital staff. This feeling could be more beneficial to their recovery overall. Patients who feel valued are typically more empowered to take an active role in their treatment, asking questions and being more receptive to providers’ suggestions for post-discharge care.

All thanks to a higher-quality hospital gown.

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