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Creating the future of textiles: Developments in medical textiles

Advanced Textiles, Business, Markets | April 1, 2012 | By:

Medical textiles meet the growing need for protection and comfort in health care apparel.

What are the newest, most exciting or intriguing developments in the industry in advanced textiles?

Active barrier protective fabrics are a game changer for medical textiles and a tremendous leap forward because they provide vital protection to health care workers while still offering comfort. These professionals often have intermittent exposure to blood and bodily fluids and frequently encounter the threat or risk of transferring infection to patients or the community.

Last year a number of industry reports examined the problem of contaminated health care worker uniforms, both in the United States and abroad. A team at Virginia Commonwealth University published a clinical study that documented evidence that the active barrier protective uniforms actually did repel the superbug MRSA as compared to regular scrub uniforms, demonstrating that these garments provide a clinically proven solution to this problem.

The active barrier protective uniforms used in the study contained a fluid barrier combined with biocidal decontamination and comfort properties in the fabric. These three components work together to prevent, reduce or eliminate the acquisition and retention of contaminants on the uniforms. The fabrics are designed for continuous wear throughout a shift and can be worn with personal protective equipment to keep both the workers and patients safe.

Who is driving new developments, the researchers or the market?

The health care market is evolving and driving the need for new technologies. A long time ago, all serious sickness was handled in the hospital or in the operating room in highly controlled environments for patients and workers. Today, patient care takes place in hospitals, surgery centers, nursing homes, clinics, labs, doctors’ offices and sometimes even in patients’ homes. Workers in some of these settings are not always required to wear protective clothing and as such can be exposed to microorganisms that transmit disease. At the same time, there has been an explosion in superbugs such as MRSA, adding another element of risk. Health care is one of the largest employment segments within our economy and is dedicated to promoting health and healing yet it also has a high rate of injury and illness for its workers. That’s a disconnect, and we must do a better job at protecting the folks who are working to keep us healthy.

What is the market demanding and how is your company responding to market demands?

Studies by Lu, Kyratsis and others all point to three things health care workers want:

  • Protection from exposure, colonization and infections
  • Comfortable fabrics that fit well and look nice
  • Evidence of effectiveness of technologies in peer-reviewed medical literature

Traditional uniforms in the health care field are not protective and workers are well aware of this. Nurses, for example, are exposed to a variety of contaminants, and many will immediately remove their uniform and shower after completing their shift because they know that their garments do not provide them any sort of protection.

Research also shows that health care professionals are willing to pay for performance when they have the evidence that their apparel will protect them on the job. To meet these needs, our Vestex™ line has a complete offering of lab coats, shirts, gowns, and scrub tops and pants that repel fluids and resist stains, contain an antimicrobial element and keep wearers cool, clean and dry.

Are new technologies finding their applications and markets?

Major medical universities, hospital systems, departments and offices have been early adopters of Vestex Active Barrier uniforms based on its design and early research. With the release of the studies showing the benefits of these garments, Vestagen has seen a significant acceleration in adoption. Emergency medicine and trauma departments, emergency medical technicians and health care employees at risk of infection due to their work in critical care, cancer care, transplant, neonates, dialysis, diabetes, and surgical areas recognize the benefits. Our biggest challenge is educating the market and making available to our customers all of the colors and styles they desire in their uniform apparel.

What new products or processes are being developed now that will have the most profound impact on the way in which end product manufacturers do business tomorrow?

In his book, The Innovator´s Dilemma, Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen discusses how large companies tend to ignore disruptive innovations and focus on what they perceive as the competitive demands of the current market or customers as they have always know them.

If you do not innovate and understand that real business value comes from creating new market opportunities, you can run the risk of failure. Be a market maker, not an order taker. Work to understand the tasks performed and conditions encountered by the actual users and then solve the problems they do not even know they have. This process is not driven by the product or process, but rather by the problem.

We use a translational research model to develop an in-depth understanding of the problem our clients face clinically, operationally and financially, and then define the design parameters required to solve the problem. The final step is to test multiple solutions in the lab and in a patient care clinical setting to develop the evidence of effectiveness and safety. The result is a product that is proven to work, and that’s good business for everyone involved.

Ben Favret is president and CEO of Orlando, Fla.-based Vestagen Technical Textiles LLC, which he founded in 2009.
Safety and Technical Products (S+TP), a division of IFAI, represents the interests of the textile industry in safety, protective, interactive, medical and other high-tech applications.

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