Sona Shah and Uni Choe

The Material ConneXion library is an incredible resource for students across the world. At the University of Southern California, Sona Shah and Uni Choe are students in the Health, Technology, and Engineering program. For one of their projects, Sona and Uni visited our flagship New York library for inspiration to create a new kind of hospital gown that priotitizes patient comfort and dignity.

MCX: Tell us about your project: what is it, and what was your design process?

The Affordable Care Act moved forward the framework of patient-centered care in the American Health System. While many aspects have changed in order to provide patients with greater control over their care, one the simplest but most critical components that has repeatedly been overlooked has not--the patient gown.  Despite strides made in technology and treatments, patients continue to suffer from uncomfortable design and style that lacks dignity as they reside in hospitals.   

To address this issue at our training hospitals, we connected with on on-campus medical facilities, Keck Hospital and Norris Cancer Hospital. We spoke with the Patient Family Advisory Council about their experiences. Incorporating their voices, we teamed up with Elly Nam, a student from the Arts Center College. We are in the process of creating our first prototype. Our goal is to design an intuitive gown that’s functional to hospital care, but also enhances patient dignity. In addition, we are interested in utilizing wearable functionality to further bolster patient care and management. At We&Co, we strive to empower patients with a new gown design that emphasizes dignity, comfort, and functionality, providing them with the best patient experience possible.

MCX: What role did Material ConneXion play in your research? 

Thanks to the Health, Technology, and Engineering Program at USC, we were able to visit the Material ConneXion library over the summer to explore the diverse array of fabrics currently available.  Material ConneXion allowed us to discover materials we had never even considered for our garments, opening up an entire realm of possibilities. We discovered materials that integrate antimicrobial silver particulate agents, which eliminate the presence of various pathogens and are used in military and hospital settings. We saw a stain and water treatment process that creates a self-cleaning effect and eliminates the need for fluorocarbon compounds. We were amazed at fabrics that contain washable wiring. Notably, when we were visiting the Trends Wall focused on natural materials, and it gave us an idea and a goal to use healthy fabrics in medical settings as well. 

The plethora of information at Material ConneXion allowed us to compare and contrast the different textiles used in sportswear, hospitals, and uniforms to pinpoint the optimal fabric for our ideal patient gown. The library enhanced our research experience by inspiring us to find the fabric that provides all of the features we desire, including durability, breathability, and sustainability.

From our visit, we were able to further advocate for University of Southern California’s joining the Material ConneXion’s community. We feel incredibly thankful that we now have an access to Material ConneXion’s library through the online database, even from Los Angeles during our prototyping process. By broadening how we approached the various facets of materials (durability, breathability, functionality), Material ConneXion pushed us to strive for a gown design in which the selected textile plays an integral role.

MCX: How did materials become an important factor in the project?

As we explore the hospital apparel sector, we are beginning to realize 1) the limitations of the cotton-poly mix currently utilized, and 2) the importance of choosing the correct material that touches on all that we would like to provide for patients.  We are currently looking for material that can provide comfort while being strong enough to last rigorous sanitation practices. In addition, we are looking to create a smart product that can not only provide antimicrobial protection but also offer more insights into patient status.

For comfort, we are looking into some insulation, ease of movement, ventilation, and useful for patients who are in hospital beds. We’d like to use healthy fabrics that do not include cotton-poly mix to further the movement of sustainability.  For the specific setting of use in hospitals, antimicrobial materials would be very important. Hospital-acquired infections are quite common, and we would like to protect our patients from possible infections that spread via linen. In addition, we are very curious about looking into fabrics that have wires and circuits.

MCX: Do you think your project was improved by thinking about materials during the process? If so, how?  

One of our professors loved to say, "Structure informs function as much as function informs structure."

We didn’t truly understand that statement until we went to the Material Connexion library and saw all of the available materials. It was there that we realized that material is the core of achieving various forms of structure, and these structures revolutionized tools and products that inform our utilization. Thinking about materials was not only instructional, but also enabled us with a new frame of understanding the crux of hospital gown design. It gave us a small but powerful idea that hospital gowns lack functionality because of their material. 

As we were able to understand the importance of materials early on in our research, our design process became more rigorous. We made sure to recruit a designer very early on. We interviewed professors from FIT, Parsons, and Pratt to learn about materials they would recommend. These learning points gave us a new set of questions and insights when it came to understanding current available products.

Most importantly, understanding materials opened our eyes to countless possibilities. We are so thankful that we were able to visit Material ConneXion early on as such exposure emboldened us to look beyond the known and the traditional to imagine the unknown futures.

Thanks to Sona and Uni for sharing their incredible story with us! Have you created something incredible using smart material thinking? Email us at info@materialconnexion.com with your story today.