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Research / Discovery

Minding the gap: CSU redesigning the hospital gown

May 14, 2014
Kortny Rolston

A research team in the Department of Design and Merchandising in the College of Health and Human Sciences are overhauling the shapeless, backless hospital gown that U.S. hospitals have used since the 1920s.

With their wide shoulders, open, drafty backs and sack-like design, one-size-fits-all hospital gowns are functional, not fashionable. 

The open back gives healthcare workers easy access to a patient’s body and the one-size approach reduces costs because hospitals can buy them in bulk.

Still, it’s a garment few people like.

 In 2012, French citizens launched a petition calling for gowns that “respect patients’ dignity and intimacy.”  And questions litter Internet chat rooms and message boards from people expecting to be admitted to a hospital, wondering if they can bring their own gowns.

To Juyeon Park, it’s a design problem that can be fixed.
  
The professor in Colorado State University’s Department of Design and Merchandising is leading a team to overhaul the shapeless gown, which U.S. hospitals have used since the 1920s.

“We think we can design a garment that is more appealing to patients and helps them feel covered but also functions the way nurses and doctors need it to,” Park said.

Seeking medical advice

Park and her team in the College of Health and Human Sciences are working with two Northern Colorado hospitals now part of University of Colorado Health to ensure they get input not just from nurses, doctors and other medical staff, but patients themselves.

The team has met with past and current patients at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins and formally surveyed others. 

 “We found that patients want the gowns to be functional, but they also don’t want to feel like they are wearing a nightgown,” Park said.

Still, that doesn’t mean the patients’ wishes win out.

The team also consults regularly with the hospitals’ medical staff and had one of their early prototypes nixed because the dark color made it harder to spot blood.

“We found out that is very important to the medical staff,” Park said. “It helps them assess a patient’s condition.”

Ann Henderson, a nurse at Medical Center of the Rockies who is working with Park, said whatever the CSU team comes up with, it has to be functional.

“We need to be able to turn patients on their sides or backs and be able to access all parts of their bodies,” she said

Venture-ing forward

Park and her team recently received a $13,000 Creative Works grant from CSU Ventures, the technology transfer and commercialization agent for the University, to support the project.

They are currently preparing another design prototype and are hoping to meet with hospital staff and patients again soon. 

The team plans to use a 3D scanner in the Human Body Dimensioning Facility to identify an optimum size and then evaluate whether it functions the way nurses and other medical staff need it to and if hospital patients will wear it.

“This project has the potential to impact a lot of people,” said Rodman Tompkins, director of licensing and business development for CSU Ventures.

That’s one of the reasons Park picked it.

“This is the perfect design opportunity to serve a larger population,” she said.