Patient gowns: paper or cloth?

Patient gowns: paper or cloth?

When it comes to patient gowns, it’s pretty easy to argue either side of the “paper or cloth” question. Disposable gowns may be more convenient, but cloth is soft and cozy. Which is better for the environment? Do doctors and patients like one or the other better? It really comes down to practice preference, but as you think about which direction to go, here are a few factors to consider.

Cost. Disposable gowns typically run 40¢ to $1.00 each, depending on the style and brand. Cloth gowns cost in the $10-20 range (again depending on the size, style, and quality) but can last several years with proper care. To answer the cost question, do the math. Estimate how many patients put on gowns in your office each year (not all do – it depends on the reason for the visit). Calculate the annual expense for paper gowns versus cloth (figure conservatively that a cloth gown has a useful life of three or four years). Then, for cloth, calculate the cost of either using a laundry service or the investment in equipment, staff time, electricity, and supplies needed to do washing and drying in house.

Patient preference. While you already know that they would just as soon not to have to don a gown of any sort, determining whether your patients prefer cloth or paper is a relatively easy task. Simply conduct an in-office survey over a period of a month or two. Put out short forms, pens, and a response box in the reception area and as patients check in, have front desk staff ask them to complete the survey while they’re waiting. Instead of only asking, “Do you prefer cloth or paper gowns?” try to find out why. Do they feel that one or the other is warmer, or more comfortable, sanitary, or flattering?

Environmental impact. This is not as straightforward as you might think. At first blush, you might assume that paper is not a “green” alternative. Factor in, however, the hot water and energy (electricity or gas, plus the fuel used for transportation if you use a laundry service) needed for using cloth, and the picture isn’t quite so clear. For this blog post, we could not find an unbiased study comparing the environmental impact of using cloth versus paper in a medical office. If you know of such a study, please leave a comment below. (Note: One way to save the environment and save money, no matter which type of garment you choose, is to not have patients “gown up” unnecessarily.)