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Hospital gowns that match skin tones could help detect symptoms

April 29, 2010 |  3:10 pm

Who doesn't love a hospital gown? They're so comfy and flattering. But they may not be doing the job they could be, according to researchers.

Kz37yfnc Scientists Mark Changizi and Kevin Rio believe the venerable hospital gown needs a makeover -- at least the color, anyway. In a study published recently in the journal Medical Hypotheses, they argue that the typical hospital gown colors -- usually a solid blue or green or a print on a white background -- may not help health professionals see if skin tones are changing, signaling a serious condition such as cyanosis. Cyanosis produces a blue or purplish color to the skin and mucous membranes, signifying that there may be less oxygen in the bloodstream. Pale or yellow-tinged skin can signal other health problems.

One solution, they suggest, is to give patients gowns and sheets that are close in color to their skin tone. "If a doctor sees a patient, and then sees the patient again later, the doctor will have little or no idea whether the patient's skin has changed color," Changizi said in a news release. Changizi, assistant professor in the department of cognitive science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., added, "Small shifts in skin color can have tremendous medical implications." This, he said, applies to all skin tones.

The researchers also recommended using biosensor color tabs, matched as well to the patient's skin tone and placed at several locations on the body. Those, too, would allow physicians or clinicians to notice any changes in skin color.

Although pulse oximetry is already available (that's a non-invasive way of tracking how oxygenated a patient's hemoglobin is), the authors believe that noticing a skin color change may be a faster method of telling if something is wrong.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Constantina Guzman, lying next to her son, wears a standard-issue hospital gown. Photo credit: L.M. Otero / Associated Press