BOISE – The mental light bulb lit up in Dr. Brian Kerr’s brain during a routine day at a Boise hospital.
Registered nurse Carleen Egbert and anesthesiologist Kerr watched an older patient walking away from them, her hospital gown gaping open in the back.
“Why can’t somebody come up with a gown that covers the butt?” Egbert asked rhetorically.
That was May 2005. It took almost four years to turn the idea for a new gown into a patented product manufactured and distributed through a medical and surgical supply company with a worldwide reach.
The gowns part on the sides. A sash ties in front.
A first shipment of 150,000 gowns is on its way to the U.S. from China.
St. Luke’s and St Alphonsus Regional Medical Center are looking into using the gowns, some of which are expected to arrive in Boise by June.
“We are impressed with it, but it has to go through our internal evaluation process,” St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center spokesman Ken Dey said last week.
For patients, the issue is privacy and dignity. For nurses and doctors, it is access to parts of patients’ bodies that are blocked by traditional gowns, especially if patients are double-gowned.
Double gowning for patient privacy can be a headache for nurses who have to monitor patients through layers of fabric. It also doubles the laundry load.
A week or so after the nurse and doctor talked, Kerr came to the hospital with the first version. He had dressed one of his daughters’ Barbie dolls in a hospital gown cut and sewn from a blue hospital rag.
At one point, federal patent officials told Egbert that her gown was not unique because it closely resembled a doll dress or a child’s sundress from the 1930s.
The gown also had to gain the approval of the Food and Drug Administration, which is required for hospital use.
Kerr owns the gown’s patent, but he left the business side of things to Egbert. He didn’t have time for it between his work as an anesthesiologist and his business, Silk Touch Medspa in Eagle, he said.
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