Why an Iowa health system updated its hair care offerings for patients

Combs, shampoos and other hair care products have been supplied to inpatients for decades, but many are geared toward people with straight, fine hair, leaving out a number of minority groups, according to an Oct. 19 article on the American Medical Association website.

A different approach to personal needs in healthcare would provide better inclusivity to marginalized patient populations who often go unnoticed and unconsidered, according to the report.

For example, staff members at Iowa City-based University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics realized they were shortchanging minorities when one Black patient said in a survey response: "I wish I had a comb for my hair."

A physician investigated the complaint and discovered most of the supplies the hospital provided could be used only on straight, fine hair, which is usually a trait of white people. Minorities with other hair types needed different products. 

To be more inclusive, the health system reached out to surrounding systems for vendor recommendations and best practices for providing inclusive hair products. However, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics could not find a system that supplied these products on a systematic or wide-scale basis.

In 2019, it implemented its own system across six units. Now, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics provides patients with products tailored to a variety of needs. Products include sulfate-free shampoos, hair moisturizers such as coconut oil and shea butter, wide-tooth combs and protective statin headscarves. The health system also provides razors and shaving cream for patients.

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