In many discussions about patient experiences in healthcare there are allusions to the loss of dignity that many patients experience when they enter the hospital. Often patients who value their privacy are subjected to extraordinary intrusions which would be intolerable in any other circumstance. Often, because it is such an ordinary part of the hospital experience, we do not see the indignities that occur as a matter of course. The most glaring of these is the hospital gown. Patients’ bodies are only partly covered by a gown that seems to be a mandatory requirement in hospitals almost everywhere. We have forgotten the reasons for it, but assume that gowns are designed to allow doctors and nurses easy access to the patient’s body.
It first occurred to me that this was a privacy issue which is not covered by the current privacy regulations, as it’s currently fixed on keeping medical records away from prying eyes. Many patients believe that at least the same amount of attention that’s paid to safeguarding medical records should be paid to keeping their bodies private. I believe that this is yet another hangover from the early days of scientific medicine when patients gave their bodies over to science once they entered the hospital. This is clearly privacy issue of significance to patients.
Last week journalist Tom Blackwell of the National Post wrote a long and varied feature on the issue and interviewed not only physicians, but also patients and representatives from Patients Canada. The article pointed out that the vast majority of patients had no medical need to be so accessible to doctors or nurses, and it was even suggested that the gowns contributed to health deterioration that led to increased returns to hospital.
A few days later I received an email from a friend in England who found the article and presented a solution that is being tried in some parts of the NHS: the Dignity Giving Suit. She has allowed me to use images from the site to show a few of the alternatives. She also included her response to the article:
We have designed the innovative patented Dignity Giving Suit which affords patient’s dignity, whilst allowing surgical and medical teams full dignified access to the patient for procedures, lines, leads, drips, drains and catheters. Patients have access to the Dignity Giving Suit to enable them to purchase a version of the hospital Dignity Giving Suit, in a choice of patterns which allow them to feel comfortable and in control in their own choice of ‘pajama’. Their own version of the Dignity Giving Suit can be worn in all departments of the Hospital, including MRI and Xray until they require the Hospital’s sterile version, and for recuperation at home. The Hospital version has been in some Hospitals in the UK for over a year with more hospitals currently trialling or ordering.
According to the site, these hospital suits allow patients to retain their dignity while “giving healthcare practitioners unrestricted access to their patients”. What we need now is a philanthropist who can restore the dignity of patients and help create the next major change in healthcare.