Disposable gowns designed to protect healthcare workers from splatters of bodily fluids may not be adequate, potentially giving a false sense of security and opening workers up to infection, according to new research.
A peer-reviewed academic study was designed to evaluate the performance of disposable vs. reusable gowns by assessing their ability to maintain adequate protection across their expected lifespan. That includes multiple washings in the case of reusable gowns.
“Some disposable gowns on the market today are still not meeting AAMI PB70 performance requirements for healthcare worker protection, even after the Ebola crisis of 2014 brought this issue to light,” the authors write. “The adoption of reusable gowns may result in increased protection and significant cost savings due to their superior durability and sustainability when compared to disposable gowns.”
Disposable gowns with insufficient barrier protection — putting wearers at risk — was ninth on ECRI’s top 10 health technology hazards list for 2022. That designation trailed the hazard ranked No. 8 by ECRI — that poor duodenoscope reprocessing ergonomics and workflows put healthcare workers and patients at risk.
We wrote in December 2021 about how sterile processing personnel who handle reusable medical instruments may be exposed to patient tissue, blood, and fluids even when they are outfitted in the recommended personal protective equipment (PPE).
That’s according to an evaluation of PPE effectiveness for endoscope reprocessing staffers conducted by Cori L. Ofstead, president and CEO of Ofstead & Associates, and lead author of a paper published in the American Journal of Infection Control.
Still, some healthcare workers favor disposable gowns because they consider them lighter and more breathable.
All the reusable gowns used in the study met the minimum AAMI PB70 requirements for impact penetration and water penetration, but the disposable gowns that were studied did not, authors Meredith McQuerry and others wrote in their study.
Those results “support the adoption of reusable isolation and surgical gowns over their disposable counterparts in favor of higher water resistance protection at all levels,” according to the study.
These disposable gowns, used across the country in thousands of hospitals, may fall short of safety standards and leave hospital workers exposed to greater risk of infection than advertised, according to a Kaiser Health News (KHN) story.
ECRI, a nonprofit focused on healthcare safety, is conducting its own study testing disposable isolation gowns after receiving anecdotal reports of “blood or other body fluids leaking through,” ECRI Engineering Director Chris Lavanchy told KHN.
Previous studies have made the case for reusable medical gowns based on significant cost savings from an environmental standpoint, McQuerry and others write.
In describing the limitations of the research, authors suggested that future studies evaluate reusable gowns for bloodborne pathogen penetration after multiple washing and drying cycles, including sterilization between each cycle.