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Comfort meets chic in new Diane von Furstenberg-designed hospital gowns at the Cleveland Clinic

September 09, 2010
  • The Cleveland Clinic employed the help of designer Diane von Furstenberg to redesign their hospital gowns.
The Cleveland Clinic employed the help of designer Diane von Furstenberg… (Cleveland Clinic )

What's not to like about a hospital gown? Pretty much everything. The itchy, tush-exposing garments are a necessary evil for going through just about any hospital procedure, but they may be dreaded just as much -- or maybe more -- than the procedure itself.

But Jeanne Ryan thought something could be done about those gowns. The executive liaison and RN in executive health at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio started working on improving the hospital gown about five years ago, her mission guided by this: "I've been a nurse for almost 30 years, and gowns have always been a sore spot with me," she said. "We're all about improving things for patients."

That used to mean concentrating on staff and treatment, but Ryan said that the entire scope of a patient's hospital experience is being considered: "We're trying to improve things on all levels, and it was obvious to me that the hospital gown could use some improvement."

With the blessing of Dr. Delos Cosgrove, the clinic's president and chief executive (for whom Ryan managed his surgical practice), she began to work on prototypes for new gowns, with input from a multidisciplinary team of nurses and doctors in various fields, such as orthopedics, colorectal medicine and general internal medicine.

Some facets of the old gowns had to stay: They had to allow easy access to the body for examinations and treatments; they had  to be a certain length to maintain modesty; pockets were needed for monitors; and sleeves had to be loose enough to administer IVs. Also, zippers and hook-and-loop-tape closures were verboten. Comfort and durability were essential.

Ryan and her team (which also included input from the Office of Patient Experience) came up with a prototype that was reversible and could be worn with the opening in the front or the back, but the design wasn't that practical and ultimately didn't work.

While Ryan was working on the new gown, Cosgrove had a chance meeting with designer Diane von Furstenburg, she of the chic and practical wrap dress. "He told her that his nurse was working on this project, and the next thing I knew I was flying to New York."

The collaboration with Von Furstenburg and her designers produced a gown that looks more like a robe, with a gently gathered waist that ties on the side. It can open in either the front or back, and there's no grabbing at the back necessary while walking. The Cleveland Clinic logo was even reworked into a modern print. "It makes you feel covered," Ryan said, adding, "Fabric was a big part of this too, since patients complain about being too warm more often than being cold." She ultimately decided on a soft, all-cotton twill and offered it in four different sizes.

That gown is now being tested among patients in various areas of the hospital, and overall Ryan said the feedback has been good. She may change the fabric to a cotton-poly blend to make it less wrinkly and more durable, and hopes to get a finished version out in about six to eight months.

More comfortable gowns may not be as important as, say, cancer treatments, but Ryan believes they can affect a patient's care: "Anything we can do to improve their experience will help. I think if you feel better, that has to affect your overall outlook."

-- Jeannine Stein / Los Angeles Times

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