Students aim to cure design flaws in peekaboo hospital gowns

Students aim to cure design flaws in peekaboo hospital gowns

A group of Halifax university students want to close the curtain on peekaboo hospital gowns that sometimes reveal too much, and have designed three prototypes that aim to preserve a patient's sense of dignity.

The ongoing research project is being conducted by Saif Syed, a Dalhousie University medical student, in conjunction with students from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD University).

Syed said he came up with the idea after working in a Toronto hospital.

"One of the things that often came up was patients not feeling dignified in a hospital gown," he said. They were "always commenting on how uncomfortable it felt."

Room for improvement

Those feelings can do real harm, Syed said. Research suggests that "patients' sense of self and satisfaction impacts their recovery times," he said.

Hospital gown designs have remained the same for decades because they are cheap to make, Syed said, and they provide physicians with easy access.

But that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement.

Workshop 

In November 2016, a team of students met for a workshop at NSCAD University to come up with a better design that is affordable, effective and would protect the dignity of patients.

The team focused on making fasteners — such as buttons and belts — easier to use for patients suffering from illnesses such as dementia and arthritis. 

The group also experimented with colour, fabric, cuts and access points. 

Gary Markle, an associate professor in the department of fashion at NSCAD University, said it was a learning experience that gave his students the chance to be creative — and have an impact on people's lives. 

By bringing people together from different disciplines, Markle said, "we can make better choices, better decisions and more rapidly get to a really good solution."

Challenges

Once the prototypes were built, they were presented to patient focus groups, which gave the designers "perspective on mobility, aesthetic and of dignity," said Syed. 

There were some challenges. 

"We began to realize how difficult it was to balance what clinicians need and what patients would like," Syed said, "and how to achieve an innovative balance between the two."

'Ripe for innovation'

The next step will be to have the prototypes assessed by launderers, manufacturers, clinicians and hospital administrators. 

"We will have conversations about what their needs are in the world of patient gowns," said Syed. 

"It is an area that is ripe for innovation," he said, "and an area where we — in Halifax — can make a contribution to health care at large."