Patients “loved the gowns,” Boissy said. “People felt much more comfortable in the new design, not just physically but emotionally.” In recent years, she added, “hospitals are looking at everything they do and trying to evaluate whether or not it contributes to enhancing the patient experience.”
It’s all part of a trend among hospitals to improve the patient reviews and their own bottom lines—fueled in part by the health law’s focus on quality of care and other federal initiatives. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services increasingly factors patients’ satisfaction into its quality measures, which are linked to the size of Medicare payments hospitals get.
Sometimes the efforts involve large capital improvement projects. But they can also mean making waiting rooms more comfortable, improving the quality of food served to patients, or, as in this case, updating hospital gowns.
Ultimately, this focus leads to “a better patient experience,” said John Combes, a senior vice president of the American Hospital Association.
The Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System is in the process of updating its gowns, an initiative that began when the system’s innovation institute challenged students at the city’s College for Creative Studies to identify and offer a solution to one hospital problem.
The students responded with the suggestion to redo the garment that has often been described by patients as flimsy, humiliating, indecent, and itchy. The process took three years, but last fall, the institute unveiled a new and improved version. It’s made of warmer fabric—a cotton blend—that wraps around a patient’s body like a robe and comes in navy and light blue, the hospital’s signature colors.
Patient expectations are part of the calculus. They “are demanding more privacy and more dignity,” said Michael Forbes, a product designer at the Henry Ford Innovation Institute.
When the institute tested his gown design, Forbes said, patient-satisfaction scores noticeably increased in a few days.
The new gown “was emblematic … of an attitude that was conveyed to me at the hospital—that they cared about me as a whole human being, not just the part they were operating on,” said Dale Milford, who received a liver transplant during the time the redesign was being tested. “That was the subtext of that whole thing, was that they were caring about me as a person and what it meant for me to be comfortable.”
But replacing the traditional design is no easy task. What patients wear needs to be comfortable yet allow health professionals proper access during exams, meaning it must open and close easily. The gowns also need to be easily mass-manufactured, as well as efficiently laundered and reused.
New designs, though, can be expensive. After Valley Hospital of Ridgewood, New Jersey, switched to pajamas and gowns that provide extra coverage, costs went up $70,000 per year, said Leonard Guglielmo, the facility’s chief supply chain officer, because the new garments cost more to buy and maintain.