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Are Hospital Gowns Necessary?

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"If you had a choice between wearing a hospital gown or your own pajamas, which would you choose? Our next guest actually asked that question. Dr. Todd Lee of McGill University surveyed five hospitals and he wrote about it recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine. He told me that while some people need to be wearing those skimpy, backless hospital gowns for medical reasons, a lot more don't." 

Dr. Lee: It's one of many ways that being in the hospital is an unpleasant experience. You know, you take someone and take  their clothes, and you put them in an undignified gown. And then you have them, for the most part of the day, lie in a bed. And everyone who comes in to see the patient, the patient is lying in the bed. So there's height discrepancy. There's an information discrepancy, so there's a difference in power and the health care providers often know more about the patient's health than the patient. There's varying levels of skills of communicating the patient's health state. The patient is very anxious about being in the hospital. They are ill. They certainly are not desiring to be admitted to the hospital for the most part.

Lewis: So, you checked in on 127 hospital patients to see if they were wearing pants or other substantial clothing on their lower body and then you asked their doctors if it would be OK if they did wear pants. What did you find? 

Dr. Lee: We found that there was some variability in individual physicians willingness to allow their patients to wear pants or other lower-body attire. That part is probably due to some differences in the patient populations throughout the six units that we studied, even though they are similar on any one given day there may be some differences. And it was also probably was related to the physician, or the willingness of that particular physician, to accept the concept, the patient wearing their own clothes or wearing pants of some kind.

Lewis: One quick last question? Do you find that this movement toward moving away from wearing hospital gowns is gaining traction? Do you think there's a will on the parts of health care systems and the patients and patient advocates to do this? 

Dr. Lee: I must say that I'm very pleased with the amount of response this little study has created, both in terms of the media and of colleagues saying 'I never really thought about that.' And it seems like something so simple that we could change. I'll tell you, I was at a dinner party and one of the people there, their mother had been admitted to a hospital in South Korea and they said 'I have a picture of my mother in the hospital.' So, I said that's interesting. They show me this picture. Their mother must be in her late 70s. She was smiling and wearing this hospital-provided, looked very functional, very comfortable, big buttons for the elderly to take on and take off, pajama set. And I thought, 'Wow, if they have that type of care in South Korea how come I don't have that type of care in hospitals in North America?'