Skin-tone-matched hospital gowns make it easy to spot color-shifts

A paper by Mark Changizi in Elsevier's journal Medical Hypotheses cleverly suggests that hospitals issue gowns matched to skin-tone for new patients, so that it's easy to tell if skin-tone has shifted (an urgent warning sign of many urgent health conditions):
One potential solution, Changizi said, is for hospitals to outfit patients with gowns and sheets that are nude-colored and closely match their skin tone. Another solution is to develop adhesive tabs in a large palette of skin-toned colors. Physicians could then choose the tabs that most closely resemble the patient's skin tone, and place the tabs at several places on the skin of the patient. Both techniques should afford doctors and clinicians an easy and effective tool to record the skin tone of a patient, and see if it deviates - even very slightly - from its "baseline" color over time.

"If a patient's skin color shifts a small amount, the change will often be imperceptible to doctors and nurses," Changizi said. "If that patient is wearing a skin-colored gown or adhesive tab, however, and their skin uniformly changes slightly more blue, the initially 'invisible' gown or tab will appear bright and yellow to the observer."

Nude-colored hospital gowns could help doctors better detect hard-to-see symptoms

Harnessing color vision for visual oximetry in central cyanosis (PDF)


  1. does ‘nude’ mean white? i guess people of color don’t get sick (well they do, but we don’t treat them in hospitals and even if by chance we DO treat them, we don’t care about them or their skin color changing unless it changes to white)

    1. Not only do they not get sick, but they’re made of gold, taste like strawberries and in fact do live to be forever!

      1. Taste like strawberries? I guess that’s why The Pasta Bible has “freshly ground black people” as an ingredient to one of its recipes.

    2. In this case, “nude” clearly means nude. While I’m not sure how easily really dark skin can be seen to change colour, all the lighter shades of brown should work with this system.

  2. I’m doubtful this would work. both skin and cloth vary their apparent color depending on the relation ship between the eye the object and the light shining on it.

    And they don’t change the same.

  3. Seems like this could be done a lit simpler and a lot cheaper with a simple digital camera attached to a patients chart. Take a shot of his skin during rounds and compare the coloration over time. Skin matched gowns sound a little immodest.

  4. In my view this is ridiculous, and would be a huge waste of money. Learning to assess color changes as part of the visual assessment is basic first year stuff for health care professionals. Nail beds don’t need special clothing.

    1. Exactly what I was thinking! They are pretty easy to make and it would not have to be super sensitive. Not to mention the data could be used to assist in future diagnosis.

  5. @7yler: But what if the lighting in the emergency room is different from the lighting in the patient room? A digital camera image would be misleading, then.

    I think a digital devicee like this:
    but specifically developed for skin tones would be the ‘ultimate’ solution.

    But first maybe we should focus on getting our medical records digitized so all of our doctors can see what drugs they’re each prescribing us.

  6. As a former RN, I can tell you this will not go over well with nurses. Can you imagine the size of the linen closet that will be needed to store these gowns, sorted by size AND skin tone? What if all the gowns in the patient’s exact shade of pallor are in the laundry? It’s easy to imagine this technology costing more time than it saves.

    More to the point, I don’t necessarily want to know the patient’s color on admission, but I do want to know if it’s been changing in the last few minutes. An observant nurse will pick up on that change right away without help from a gimmick.

  7. Imagine the response: “Not content with making us wear paper-thin “gowns” that are barely long enough to preserve modesty and close at the back, they’re now going to give them special colors to make it look as if we actually ARE naked!”

    Seriously, I think that the idea of skin patches would be more effective than the idea of properly tinted gowns. And for several reasons.

  8. Seriously… that’s a really, really narrow range of skin tones. Did they just forget about brown people altogether?

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