Innovations Continue to Improve Medical/Surgical Attire

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By Jennifer Larson, contributor

June 8, 2011 - Not so long ago, a scrub top was just a scrub top.

Not anymore. Now scrubs, surgical gowns and lab coats are made of high-tech fabrics that their manufacturers claim will do just about everything short of examining or operating on the patient for you.

Here are three products that illustrate the trend toward using new technology to improve on an old idea:

• Kimberly-Clark’s new MicroCool Surgical Gown. According to a statement from the company, this new product from Kimberly-Clark Health Care meets the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation’s (AAMI) highest standard for liquid barrier protection while “still providing the same comfort and critical lint, abrasion, flame and bacteria resistance that its customers need.” An older version without the Level 4 AAMI label is already for sale. The new gown will be available for sale in select markets in a few months, and it will be available to the rest of the markets by the end of 2011. 

• Cardinal Health’s SmartGown. Like the MicroCool gown, this gown is also classified as a Level 4 gown by the AAMI. It uses something called “ResponsiveMembrane” technology to wick moisture away from the wearer, and the manufacturer claims that it gets even more breathable as the temperature climbs.

• Vestagen Technical Textile’s Vestex fabric for medical attire. These lab coats and scrubs are designed to repel stains and protect the wearer from bodily fluids. The clothing is made of breathable fibers that are designed to wick moisture away from the skin; they also contain a special antimicrobial substance called Semeltec. These products hit the market in 2010.

These types of products have a lot of potential, according to some experts.

“Manufacture of novel antimicrobial gowns, scrubs and lab coats that also include a hydrophobic barrier may provide protection against transmission of HAIs (hospital-acquired infections),” said Matthew Hardwick, Ph.D., director of clinical investigations for the MedStar Health Research Institute. “They may also provide an enhanced protection of health care workers against these same organisms.”

In one study, Hardwick recently led a team of researchers that analyzed how susceptible Vestex’s Semeltec would be to Clostridium difficile, a virulent and common infectious agent found in the hospital setting. They found that the antimicrobial was “highly effective” in killing the bacteria.

Joan Blanchard, MSS, BSN, RN, CNOR, a perioperative nursing specialist with the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN), noted that outside research does matter when it comes to assessing the claims of such products. 

“The first question AORN would want to have answered is: Have independent research studies been done on the effectiveness of these products as well as any unanticipated outcomes?” she said.

Is it worthwhile for a hospital or practice to consider purchasing these types of medical/surgical attire?

MedStar’s Hardwick said, “Medical textiles have long been known to harbor the infectious agents that cause HAI…The costs associated with the purchase of antimicrobial healthcare textiles will be relatively minor compared to the cost associated with HAIs.”

Blanchard said she would encourage health care professionals to consider a number of factors before taking out their checkbooks. When considering the purchase or use of these types of products, they should consider balancing cost with “well-established testing that supports the use of antimicrobial fibers and barrier protection from the results of the independent research studies,” she said.

“Hand washing remains the gold standard for preventing the transmission of infectious agents,” said Blanchard. “If these gowns and lab coats are effective, they would be an adjunct for the prevention of transmission of infectious agents.”

Ben Favret, president and CEO of Vestagen, said that he is very confident in his products. “People want performance,” he said. “People want protection. People want safety.”

Vestagen commissioned a survey of health care professionals in March to gauge their opinions on the most important properties in medical apparel. The number one property cited was barrier protection. Favret said that Vestex is able to provide that type of protection that is so important to health care workers, who, by the nature of their jobs, often get spattered with various bodily fluids.

Plus, he noted, Vestagen’s scrubs are also very durable—they will stand up to 50 washes, compared with the average life span of a set of hospital scrubs, which is about 23. The company is currently selling their products online and has a number of clients, but hopes to work with some of the major brands to sell them on a more widespread basis.

© 2011. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.