Healthcare uniforms which identify employees for patient safety

The Uniform Solution

Patient Safety Awareness Week was March 3-9, 2013, but should remain a focus year-round. Most relate this week of recognition to slip-and-falls, but patient safety can also be directly affected by the uniforms worn by healthcare employees and their patients. Healthcare laundries can help to keep patients within their client facilities protected by educating the facility personnel on the advantages of a branded uniform program. Laundries can also share the importance of properly selecting uniforms that best fit the employees’ work environment and the proper patient apparel to ensure patient comfort. 
 
Advantages of a Branded Program
In September 2012, The Federal Bureau of Investigation released “Infant Abductions—A Violent Trend Emerges,” an article highlighting the increasing instances of infant abductions. Two of the featured cases occurred in hospitals after the mothers had given birth. Since then, many hospitals have improved neo-natal security by requiring newborns to wear tracking devices, but these devices won’t alert security when trespassers are wandering the halls, with time to potentially harm a new parent or employee in a physical manner.
 
All healthcare facilities deal with such intrusions -- we hear stories of people impersonating environmental services staff members or patient transport staff members at acute and non-acute facilities, even surgery centers. These imposters are gaining access to a resident’s room or a patient’s private residence, posing an immediate threat to the employee and patient.
 
Healthcare facilities are now preventing such intrusions by utilizing and outfitting their staff in a branded uniform program, making their garments unique and difficult for intruders to replicate. Along with a branded uniform program, a healthcare facility may also color-code employee uniforms based on their department or role. The differential branding by department makes it more challenging for trespassers to falsely impersonate a member of the staff. This also provides patients with a better sense of security and comfort when they are able to identify which employees belong in their room or residence. A 2000 study conducted by J.D. Power and Associates confirmed that “uniforms could lead people to associate positive personal attributes such as credibility, trust and confidence with employees in uniforms.” A branded uniform program also promotes a sense of confidence and professionalism amongst employees. Studies suggest that a uniformed employee may actually perform better due to increased confidence in their abilities, which in turn leads to better patient care (Jacobs, T., 2012).
 
The safety of healthcare employees and their patients can and will be affected by a healthcare facility’s choice of staff garments if not selected properly. For example, the use of fluid resistant precaution gowns and lab coats in areas such as burn units and quarantined units reduces the spread and cross contamination of bacteria thru fluids and transference of particulates to patients and other employees. .
 
Properly Selecting Patient Apparel
Patient apparel is also an important factor to consider when evaluating patient safety measures. Patients come to healthcare facilities for numerous reasons and they come in all shapes and sizes. Healthcare facilities must provide their patients with appropriately fitting apparel to avoid tripping and exposure. A facility can avoid such hazards by offering various sizes ranging from extra-small to ten extra-large, as well as pediatric and teen sizes. Also, any apparel selected should meet federal guidelines. For example, children’s patient apparel should be designed and developed using fabrics with inherent flame resistant properties, specially made to exceed the stringent requirements of the Federal Children’s Sleepwear Acts DOC-FF-3-71 and 5-74.
 
A healthcare facility’s garment selection for patients should be based on the procedure the patient is receiving.  Patient apparel for someone receiving a mammogram would require a completely different garment from someone in the acute setting undergoing a major procedure that would require special monitoring equipment pre- and post-procedure.   Proper garment selection facilitates a smoother procedure and offers patients enhanced comfort, allowing the employees to offer better patient care as well.  Distinct patient apparel selection would also assist in identifying patients that are considered part of a high risk group that require special care and easy identification. By utilizing a garment such as Superior Uniform Group’s High Risk ICU Gown, a brightly colored patient gown with a distinct pattern, a healthcare facility can easily recognize patients that shouldn’t be up and around, without supervision.
 
A branded uniform program with properly selected employee and patient apparel is a minor upgrade that would produce considerable improvements for patient safety at healthcare facilities. Healthcare laundries should present these benefits to their customers, educating them on the importance and advantages a properly selected uniform program would provide.
 

References:

•Jacobs, T. (2012, February 28) The Brain-Focusing Power of the Lab Coat Pacific Standard. Retrieved from http://www.psmag.com

•The Federal Bureau of Investigation (2012, September 7) Infant abductions—A Violent Trend Emerges Retrieved from http:www.fbi.gov

•"The Customer Perception of Uniforms in the Workplace" study sponsored by the Uniform and Textile Service Association and conducted by J.D. Power and Associates® 

•Rastogi, N.S. (2010, October 18) Green Lantern: How much trash does a hospital produce? The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/