Gowns come with a variety of different protection levels

With COVID-19 continuing to be a prevalent issue in the world, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is becoming essential to all individuals. A specific population of individuals where PPE is extremely important is those who work in healthcare settings. Healthcare workers have an increased potential to be directly exposed to COVID-19, amongst other diseases, and should utilize every precaution in order to reduce their risk of contracting infectious organisms.

PPE can be anything from gloves, facemasks, shoe coverings, eye protection, and hearing device protection. One form of PPE that is not commonly discussed, is the use of gowns. This form of PPE has the ability to offer increased protection from many diseases, including COVID-19, and should be considered in all individuals working in the healthcare setting.

Gowns come with a variety of different protection levels, which serve different purposes for use in specific infection-control strategies. So, what are the different kinds of gowns used by healthcare workers?

Gowns are used to protect a healthcare worker from the spread of infection when coming in direct contact with potentially infectious liquid or solid material. They also play a vital role in the prevention of transferring contagious microorganisms that could harm vulnerable patients, such as individuals who are immunosuppressed. However, there isn’t just one type of gown that can be used by healthcare workers. Gowns come with a variety of different protection levels, which serve different purposes for use in specific infection-control strategies. So, what are the different kinds of gowns used by healthcare workers? The purpose of this article is to inform about the various and most common types of gowns used as PPE in the healthcare setting.

Different Levels of Protection

There are many different types of gowns that offer various levels of barrier protection. The different levels of protection range from level 1 to level 4. Below describes the liquid barrier performance levels and what particular setting each protective apparel, including gowns, should be used in healthcare workers:

  1. Level 1 = minimal risk: to be used during basic care, standard isolation, cover gown for visitors, or in a standard medical unit
  2. Level 2 = low risk: to be used during blood draw, suturing in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), or pathology lab
  3. Level 3 = moderate risk: to be used during arterial blood draw, inserting an intravenous (IV) line, in the emergency room, or for trauma cases
  4. Level 4 = high risk: to be used during long, fluid intense procedures, surgery, when pathogen resistance is needed or infectious diseases are suspected

The levels of performance are crucial when discussing protective apparel, especially gowns. As mentioned before, there are many different types of gowns and each serve a different purpose of protection. The types of gowns commonly used in healthcare facilities will be further explained below.

Surgical Gowns

This specific type of gown is a form of PPE that is intended to be worn by healthcare personnel during surgical procedures. The purpose of this gown is to protect both the patient and healthcare worker from transferring harmful microorganisms, body fluids, and particulate matter. It is important that surgical gowns be specifically labeled as such in order to not confuse them with other types. Critical zones of protection have been defined by national standards because of the controlled nature of this particular PPE and defined as specific areas where a user is most likely to come in direct contact with potentially infectious material. A particular gown is responsible for adequate protection of these critical zones. The critical zones of surgical gowns include the front of the body from the top of the shoulders to knees and the arms from the wrist cuff to above the elbow. Surgical gowns can be used for all risk levels (1-4); making this gown extremely valuable.

Surgical Isolation Gowns

The intended use of these gowns is in situations where there is a medium to high risk of contamination and need larger critical zones than the traditional surgical gown. A Surgical isolation gown’s critical zones of protection comprise of the entire gown except bindings, cuffs, and hems and must meet the highest liquid barrier protection. All seams must have the same liquid barrier protection as the rest of the gown. Essentially, this gown should cover as much of the body as is appropriate for its intended use. This type of gown offers the most abundant level of protection from infectious material and are most commonly used for risk levels 3 and 4.

Non-Surgical Gowns

These types of gowns are intended for use in low or minimal risk situations (Levels 1-2) where the transfer of potentially hazardous material or microorganisms is limited. Non-surgical gowns are still effective in protecting the user from infectious material as the critical zones of protection are extremely similar to that of surgical isolation gowns. However, these gowns should not be utilized during surgical procedures, invasive procedures, or when there is a medium to high risk of contamination. This is due to the gown being labeled exempt from premarket review and classified as a Class 1 medical device. The above gowns are classified as a Class 2 medical device and are subject to premarket review.