Patient Hospital Gowns: More Can and Want To Wear Pants Interview with:
Todd C. Lee, MD, MPH
Division of General Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases
Department of Medicine, McGill University Health Centre
McGill Centre for Quality Improvement, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Lee: We found that in our cross-sectional study of six inpatient units in five hospitals that, in general, only 11% of patients were wearing lower body garments despite the fact that probably 55% of them could have been doing so.  The remainder were wearing open backed gowns.  When specifically asked, the majority of these patients would like to have been afforded the opportunity to wear more dignified attire and the patients were surprised that they were allowed to do so.

Medical Research What was most surprising about the result?

Dr. Lee: What was surprising was the fact that most patients were unaware that they could change into more dignified attire in the hospital and that they need not always remain in the open-backed gowns, particularly as their health status improved.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Lee: I think that clinicians should note that patients seem to appreciate the opportunity to wear more home-like attire if it is possible but, in general, may will not ask to do so.  Depending on the hospital culture, it may need to be specifically encouraged.

Patients should note that in many circumstances it may be appropriate to wear other garments with or in place of their hospital gown to improve dignity and that, in most circumstances, physicians and nursing teams will be happy oblige polite requests.  There are, of course, certain situations where it may not be reasonable or possible to utilize garments other than hospital gowns.

Medical Research:  What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Lee: It would be spectacular if clothing companies developed easy to launder, relatively inexpensive, and easy to put on and off  functional attire for acute care hospital patients.  Key design elements would include all of those factors plus attention to function such as: ease of examination, ability to remove rapidly in emergencies, and the ability to adjust for any patient’s functional impairments or medical devices (such as lines or catheters).

We think that research into the improvement of patient experiences in hospital and into the reduction of depersonalization of our patients is necessary.  Healing isn’t only about cure or the treatment of disease; rather, it is about the treatment of a whole person to maximize their well-being.  In the era of cost-conscious health care, we need not lose sight of what exactly we are doing — that is, caring for real people who happen to have illnesses.


McDonald EG, Dounaevskaia V, Lee TC. Inpatient Attire: An Opportunity to Improve the Patient Experience. JAMA Intern Med. Published online September 22, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4513.