Utilizing emerging technological advancements to enhance the performance of medical uniforms

Patricia Duignan pgduignan@vcu.edu


Unlike the performance sportswear industry, the multi-million-dollar medical apparel industry has not been pushing at the research edge of medical garments and textile technology. In most cases, medical garments meet basic requirements – they clothe the professional in a recognizable way but offer little by way of protection for the patient or the clinician. This is particularly evident in the case of professional apparel for physicians despite evidence indicating that contemporary physician garments can harbor contaminants and facilitate the transfer of these contaminants from patient to patient. Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs) are among the most serious problems facing modern medical care and conceptualizing medial garments that will reduce or eliminate the transfer of HAIs is a motivating factor for this research. With the iconic physician’s white lab coat as a focal point, this research examines the role played by this garment in the transfer of HAIs, and comfort and practicality for the wearer. Informed by these examinations, conceptual designs for future physician lab coats are presented. These conceptual pieces are guided by three objectives: eliminate transfer of HAIs through advances in textiles and digital technology, improve practicality of the garment in the medical environment and comfort for the wearer while maintaining appropriate symbolism to support and facilitate a positive physician/patient relationship.  

The conceptual design prototypes presented in this research developed through extensive research and ideation, core components of design thinking. Buchanan describes design thinking as a process “by which a designer intuitively or deliberatively shapes a design situation, identifying the views of all participants, the issues which concern them and the invention that will serve as a working hypothesis for exploration and development.”[1] Following this model, the current research incorporates an interdisciplinary research process that includes design thinking, fashion design and sociology within a mixed methods research model featuring experimentation on the nature and process of trust and trust-building to inform the next stage of this research, qualitative ethnography. Ethnographic data were collected through a triangulation of document review, personal observation, individual interviews and focus groups. These data were then scrutinized through thematic analysis to isolate pre-planned themes and identify emergent themes related to the symbolic role played by the physician’s lab coat, benefits and problems associated with the current design, and possibilities for future design models that extend current benefits while reducing current problems.

Findings from this research indicate that the traditional white lab coat worn by many physicians is not optimal for the medical environment. Problems with this garment include transfer of contaminants, impracticality within the medical environment and discomfort for the wearer. In order to address these challenges the current study presents conceptual prototype designs that feature basic fashion modifications such as elastic cuffs to keep the sleeve up when hand washing, contemporary advances in anti-microbial textiles, and futuristic conceptual innovations in digital technology that include sensors and readouts on the sleeve enabling physicians to review patient information without the need to carry additional tools including stethoscopes, beepers, papers and pens. The study concludes with ideas for additional research in medical fashions, textiles and garment-related technologies.

[1] Cerejo and Barbosa Alvaro, “The Application of Design Thinking Methodology on Research Practices: A Mind-Map of Tools and Methods | Álvaro Barbosa - Academia.edu.”


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