Fabric products help with home health care, self care and wellness practices for an aging population.
By Dara Syrkin
Fabrics have always had an important place in health care markets, but with an increasing emphasis on home health care and self-care initiatives, new fabric products are helping to provide the kind of care that used to be found only in hospital environments.
A stroll down the aisles of a big-box store will show many ways textiles are playing a role in home health care: from pack cloth in equipment cases and arm sling vests to performance fabrics in bedding and garments. Manufacturers are thinking outside the bandage box to respond to the needs of companies, patients and a growing older population in the U.S.
The birth of compression garments by LympheDIVAs™ LLC, Pittsfield, Mass., started with two breast cancer survivors. They were prescribed compression sleeves to treat lymphedema. The women were unimpressed by the rough, hot, beige, bandage-like material, and a mission was born.
“What LympheDIVAs offers,” says president Josh Levin, “is the correct therapeutic compression combined with material that is wicks moisture and feels good. The sleeves are more like what triathletes wear. That was the big change: taking what was popular and available in sports and using that in the medical field.”
LympheDIVAs is dedicated to creating medically correct fashion. The line of compression garments is available in an array of colors and prints—from stripes to leopard print, florals to tattoo patterns.
“We are the young company on the block,” Levin says. “Our biggest competitors have been around for 100 years, so we have to innovate to compete. Originally, we made only sleeves. Therapists and nurses kept saying ‘We need a gauntlet,’ so we developed that. Our next product will be a glove. Like the sleeves and gauntlets, gloves will be seamless, have the same accurate therapy, feel and comfort, and be able to accept dye-sublimation printing. Picture a lace sleeve tucked into a lace glove.”
Comfort and convenience
BioPosture™ of Long Beach, N.Y.,Â a manufacturer of BioMemoryFoam™Â eco-friendly mattresses, pillows and health products, and California-based Hologenix LLC, the makers of Celliant®Â technology for the health care sector, have teamed up to produce performance beds and bedding. Hologenix has a patent-protected method for adding minerals to the center of fibers to give health benefits to the yarn. This fiber technology will be used in BioPosture’s new “Evolution Bed” that was introduced to the licensed health care community this month.
According to Irwin Pearl, cofounder of BioPosture, “The Celliant fibers in the mattress modify visible and infrared light and recycle the light into energy your body can use effectively. The longer you lie on the sheet, the greater benefit you receive. Your body experiences increased blood flow and oxygenation, which have been proven beneficial for health and healing. This is important if you are an athlete or someone who lives with chronic pain, if you have muscle stiffness or edema.”
Textiles are driven by new medical technology as well. Ross Brown of Brown Sales Corp., Madison, Wis., says, “We’re seeing more demand for customized carrying cases for monitoring devices worn by the patient for extended periods of time. We make them from a combination of Cordura® and, typically, foam for padding, webbing for straps and D rings.
“Also, in the last five years or so, we’ve seen more requests for wheelchair seats, backs and accessories, like straps that hold equipment in place,” says Brown. “Wheelchairs come in lots of different sizes and can be custom built. Our company is able to provide a single custom seat or 1,000.”
Fieldtex Products Inc. in Rochester, N.Y., which makes a range of bags for health care uses, develops new products in part in response to input from areas of the medical community. “EMS personnel say ‘I need something [I can] wipe off in the field with an alcohol wipe.’ We see lots of movement toward washable and antimicrobial materials,” says Jonathan Abbey, e-commerce manager at Fieldtex.
When an inventor from Maine approached Fieldtex with her idea for an arm sling vest, the company was interested. Traditional arm slings place pressure on the patient’s neck. This arm sling vest disperses the weight of the recovering arm across the shoulders.
“We’ve been sewing custom cases for decades and had lots of different fabrics at our disposal. And we have the medical supplies retail arm. We were ready out of the gate when we decided to manufacture the arm sling vest,” says Abbey.
Patients are equally concerned about wash-and-wear capabilities. “We knew patients would appreciate fabric that is durable, cleanable and breathable. Just because one arm is in a sling, doesn’t mean you’re not active.”
“The arm sling vest is very strong and machine washable,” says Mark Fishell, medical sales manager. “The first vests came in a couple different colors. We refined that approach, though. The feedback on the red one was that people didn’t want to look like a traffic cone,” adds Abbey.
“We read a lot of trade journals—from EMS to home health care, from communications companies to the sports market—to determine what people need, what people are talking about, and phone calls and emails come in every day,” he says. “Fieldtex has a portal on the e-first aid Supplies website for people to submit a project idea. We get all kinds of stuff that way.”
Brown says that more entrepreneurs are approaching the company with ideas, perhaps influenced by the economy. “People who just lost a position are approaching us with the idea they’ve been thinking about for a decade, say. We help individuals, start-ups and established firms develop new products,” he says. “We make a few products ourselves, but mostly home in on what we do best: cutting and sewing and turning ideas into reality.”
“Innovation is at the heart of Chameleon,” says Debra Aperfine, president of the company. “Our R&D department never rests.” ChroMyx™ by Chameleon International is a complete line of customized, temperature-sensitive, color-changing, flexible sheet material formulated to comply with necessary specifications of the end application. The color-changing properties cannot be washed off, scuffed off or marred.
“Our most recent milestone is the development of the four-color, three-temperature product in a monolayer,” Aperfine says. “Our technology can be incorporated in breathable garments to bandages to waterproof indicators for therapy or as a first alert.”
It’s what’s not in there
Manufacturers are committed to making products that meet the standards of medical professionals as well as an educated populace. Aperfine says, “All our products are heavy metal and phthalate free and Chameleon continues to extend the UV stability.”
LympheDIVAs’ garments are latex, formaldehyde and silicone free. To hold the sleeve up, a hypoallergenic, slightly sticky material is screen printed inside the top of the garment. Machine washing and drying is recommended. “That is something that sets us apart in practice,” Levin says. “The warmth of daily washing and drying allows the spandex to retain its memory, which means sleeves last longer and give the correct therapeutic value.”
BioPosture’s approach is to leave out bulk for convenient handling by roll compressing. “A special machine is used to compress the mattress until it looks like a roll of carpet,” Pearl says. “This makes it easy and efficient to deliver—especially if the customer lives up several flights of stairs.”
BioMemoryFoam is formulated without halogens, latex or formaldehyde, using an open-cell memory foam that is made with natural plant oil substitutes. “People like the open cell. We don’t get complaints about sleeping hot or feeling like the bed is conforming to them,” says Pearl.
Since some people may be sensitive to sleeping on certain chemicals, Pearl says it is possible to waive the addition of government-required flame retardants. “Because we make each bed as it is sold, we can accommodate that request,” he says.
Testing and more testing
From research to prototypes to third-party testing: if you are in the health care industry, you have to think about liability.
“We investigate if all components meet regulatory compliance, like the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA),” Aperfine says. “After the product is formulated and designed, it undergoes third-party testing for quality assurance. However, it is the responsibility of the customer to execute due diligence. Together we build a platform for success.”
Chameleon products can conduct tests as well, offering a visual aid to illustrate temperature ranges. “Our products are used in sales presentations for proof of performance of one product over the competitor’s,” Aperfine says.
Proof of performance was doctor generated for the arm sling vest. “The inventor worked up a prototype and refined it as physicians tested it. She came to us with success stories from those doctors. Fieldtex manufactured a second prototype. We had close-to-home testimony when one of our staff members used it and loved it,” says Abbey.
Comprehensive testing was a selling point for BioPosture. “We learned about Celliant through Deslee Textiles, the company that will be making the fabric using Celliant for our mattresses and pillows,” says Pearl. “We could trust Celliant because of the extensive testing done on their proprietary fibers.”
“Partnering with Celliant fit into our marketing strategy through licensed health care professionals,” Pearl says. He predicts BioPosture’s list of 600 affiliated health care providers will grow to 3,000 in the next few years. “We reach them through their state and national associations. We’re coordinating with the Florida Chiropractic Association’s 4,800 members, for example,” he says. Chiropractors, he suggests, are likely to seek out natural products for their patients.
“We’re always looking for new products. New products are what attract people to your booth at a trade show. The new product is a conversation starter, an introduction to all the products you make,” Abbey says. “Fieldtex is willing to consider small projects. We have made prototypes that don’t go anywhere and we have seemingly small projects that have turned into multimillion-dollar accounts. Manufacturers should look seriously at small start-ups. Take the chance of making a prototype and see if it goes someplace.”
Aperfine anticipates that three to six new products will emerge on the market in the next 12 months using their technology. “Companies will use our four-color, three-temperature fabric that gives visual indication of body heat in health care products for elderly patients, people in the healing process and folks with chronic illness,” she says.
The companies Chameleon works with become partners, Aperfine says. “Companies come to us for many reasons: they may want to have an edge on a competitor, they may need visual indicators that therapy temperature has been reached,” she says. “We might collaborate with a textile company or one with proprietary technology. We investigate how to combine knowledge and create innovation without compromising the integrity of either partner. We take our time to get a product right.”