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Could Hospital Gowns Be On the Way Out?

Could Hospital Gowns Be On the Way Out?

How many of us have been to hospital for the smallest thing and had to wear that shapeless hospital gown – wearing nothing underneath – that doesn’t quite meet at the back?

In the past, little thought has gone to how these gowns make the patient feel, in regards to their dignity and state of mind. But doctors in Canada have been conducting a study that looks into how the hospital experience could be improved just by allowing patients to wear trousers beneath their hospital gown.

“There are a number of ways in which the hospital system traumatises patients,” explained Dr Todd Lee, an Associate Professor of Medicine from Montreal’s McGill University and also lead author of the study. “One of those is that we take away the patient’s clothes and put them in a somewhat depersonalising unisex blue gown, when that’s not completely necessary.”

Dr Lee and his colleagues wanted to find out just what percentage of patients really need to wear these hospital gowns and whether they would wear something else if given the choice, the results of which were published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The small study involved 127 patients who were all admitted to hospital on the same day, but in five different institutes across Toronto and Montreal. It was noted whether the study participants wore anything more substantial than underwear, and doctors were asked if patients could wear trousers or something similar if requested.

Although doctors agreed that 56% of the patients could wear trousers without causing any medical problems or intruding on their treatment, only 25% actually did so, and only 11% wore any lower-body apparel beyond their underwear. Basically, even though more than half of the participants could have worn trousers under their hospital gown, most of them didn’t. And although the study was small, the team suspects a similar situation is playing out in other hospitals.

One hospital had 17 patients who were able to wear trousers beneath their gowns without it impacting their medical procedures. When asked if they would prefer to wear less-revealing apparel than their hospital gown, 13 agreed they would, while the remaining four expressed indifference and felt comfortable either way.

But the researchers said that hospital gowns might not just be having implications for the patients’ dignity, but could affect the whole hospital experience, even their recovery in hospital and after they have left.

According to a study last year carried out by Dr Harlan Krumholz and colleagues at the Yale School of Medicine, patients being encouraged to wear their own clothing could improve their experience. “This would help patients maintain their self-esteem and orientation, and also remind their care professionals to recognise them as people,” the study concluded.

“I think all patients should, therefore, have the option to wear their own clothing if it is clinically reasonable to do so,” declared Dr Lee after analysing the results. He added that if this does become the case, it should be specified to the patient beforehand that their clothing should be clean and able to be laundered and shouldn’t get in the way of any “medically necessary acts”.

So next time you are in hospital, consider asking your doctor if you could wear your own clothes, or even just a pair of loose trousers beneath your hospital gown. You never know, you could forego having to have a hand clamped behind your back for hours, keeping your gown together!


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