Doctors and patients lash out at “undignified” hospital gowns

This drawing, by a doctor who blogs under the name Gélule, is part of a longer comic about open-back hospital gowns. See the full comic (in French) on his blog Sous La Blouse
 
 
In French hospitals, as in many hospitals around the world, patients’ gowns open at the back – often revealing more of their anatomy than they might be comfortable with. A petition calling for gowns that “respect patients’ intimacy and dignity” has, in just a couple of weeks, garnered more than 100,000 signatures. Even the French government is paying attention.
 
The petition, drafted by healthcare workers, points out that in most French hospitals, patients are made to wear gowns that “reveal their bottoms every time they move.” It asks the Health Ministry to consider alternatives, such as different types of gowns used in British hospitals and in some US hospitals that offer more coverage.
 
France’s Health Minister, Marisol Touraine, replied to the doctor who launched the petition by email. In her message, the minister writes: “Though some may consider this to be just a detail, it is not so in my view. (…) This is simply about respecting people’s dignity.” She goes on to say that the ministry will consider this matter in September, after its summer recess.
 
Meanwhile, the petition has sparked a lively debate online. While some healthcare workers applaud the initiative, others say hospitals have much bigger fish to fry, or worry that giving patients different gowns could make their work more difficult.

“With the current gowns, patients often end up with their bottoms on display”

Dr. Farfadoc (not her real name) is a General Practitioner. She wanted to use a pseudonym so she could continue writing anonymously on her blog, from which she launched the petition.
 
In the past month, a lot of us healthcare workers started to talk about the problem of open-backed gowns on Twitter, and a few of us, including myself, wrote blog posts about it. After all this talk we decided to act, and so I launched the online petition. I was amazed by the response.
 
Most hospitals in France give patients open-backed cloth gowns that have snap buttons at the back. However, the buttons generally don’t go all the way down, so patients often end up walking around with their bottoms on display. This can be quite humiliating for them. Of course, patients who have brought a pyjama or a robe can put that on, but a lot of people arrive at the hospital without having had time to pack a suitcase.
 
“These one-size-fits-all gowns are given to patients who don’t necessarily need them”
 
A report by the French National Authority for Health, a public watchdog organisation, shows that these one-size-fits-all gowns are given to patients who don’t necessarily need them. For example, one person interviewed explained that he went to the hospital because his teeth ached terribly, and was made to wear one of these gowns.
 
Of course, some people argue that gowns are just a minor issue when there are so many other, bigger problems facing hospitals, like under-staffing. But it’s also a very easy issue to fix, and would go a long way toward making patients more comfortable. Some countries have found alternatives that work just as well: gowns with more buttons to offer full coverage, or even better, gowns that tie on the side.

“For some patients, open-back gowns can be life-saving”

Karine Couot spent a decade working as a nursing assistant at a hospital in Montauban. (She left two years ago to work with disabled people).
 
During my ten years at the hospital, I never heard a single complaint about these open-backed gowns. They’re necessary for many patients. In many services, like in surgery or in the emergency room, these gowns are simply indispensable. Even having to untie a sash or tear off a Velcro strap could make the personnel lose precious seconds, which can make all the difference when you’re trying to save somebody’s life.
 
I also think these open-backed gowns are great for patients who are bedridden. In many cases, such patients must be moved as little as possible, since moving them can tire them out or hurt them if they have a fracture. So having to remove clothing from their back not only takes more time for the personnel that washes them, but can also negatively affect the patient.
 
That said, there are certainly some patients who could benefit from different types of gowns, if they’re mobile and don’t need to be washed.
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