Viewpoint: Time to rethink mandatory patient hospital gowns

While patient hospital gowns serve a number of practical purposes, the psychological effects of donning them may be more harmful than good, a physician argues in an opinion piece in The New York Times.

Ersilia M. DeFilippis, MD, a fellow in cardiovascular medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia University Irving Medical Center, writes that when patients put on hospital gowns "they are exposed, vulnerable and deidentified, contrary to the authority and protection conferred by the white coat [worn by physicians]."

The hospital gown is designed to allow easy access to intravenous lines through which drugs are delivered to the body, and they allow clinicians to more easily conduct physical exams. The gowns are also unisex and on-size-fits-all.

But they leave too many body parts unnecessarily exposed, Dr. Defilippis says. She points to a 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine conducted in Canada, which found that very few patients wear anything more than underwear under their gowns. Yet half of those patients could have worn more without any disruption to the care they were receiving, physicians admitted.

Some healthcare institutions, such as Cleveland Clinic, have recognized the need to change the hospital gown. It hired Diane von Furstenberg to design a more chic gown without the open back.

Dr. DeFilippis supports getting rid of the gowns in situations where the patient's care does not require it.

She suggests allowing patients and families to bring in the patient's own clothes, a practice that isn't a huge departure from patients being allowed to bring in pictures or other mementos. The simple act of wearing one's own clothes while in the hospital may help lessen anxiety and increase self-esteem among patients, she says.

"It's as if the concept of the hospital gown is so irrevocably tied to what it means to be a patient that we haven’t considered the patient experience without it," she writes.


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