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Premier Inc. has released survey results finding that isolation gowns surpassed N95 masks as the top personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage concern among healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients.

Up from 56 percent last month, 74 percent of survey respondents said securing a reliable supply of disposable isolation gowns was their top worry. In contrast, concern about N95 masks was cited by 67 percent of respondents, down from 73 percent last month.

In the absence of a reliable supply of non woven isolation gowns, health systems have resorted to alternatives, including coveralls (used by 43 percent of respondents), Tyvek suits (32 percent) and ponchos (14 percent). In addition, 22 percent are turning to alternative suppliers in adjacent industries, striking innovative partnership deals such as LifeBridge Health’s agreement with Under Armour to produce surgical gown alternatives.

Since Premier data first documented N95 respirators as going into widespread shortage, the government has granted a series of waivers or emergency use authorizations allowing providers to reuse and reprocess N95s, access alternative KN95 masks and use non woven face masks beyond their recommended date, as temporary measures to address shortages during the COVID-19 crisis. These government-approved conservation measures are now being followed by a majority of survey respondents.

Survey findings show 79 percent of respondents caring for COVID-19 patients are extending the wear of N95 respirators, up from the 60 percent reported just last month. In addition, 70 percent of providers are reusing N95s (up from 40 percent last month); 59 percent are using N95s beyond their recommended date (up from 29 percent); 67 percent are using industrial versions (up from 31 percent); and another 47 percent are using KN95 products, a measure that was approved at the beginning of April by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow providers to use masks produced and approved by Asian regulators.

In addition to conservation measures, manufacturing capabilities increased globally over the last month to meet the demand for face masks and respirators. While this was universally lauded, it did produce an unintended consequence for isolation gown supply, as N95s and many isolation gowns are made using the same spunbond and meltblown textile processing capabilities (also known as SMS textiles). As manufacturers prioritized capacity to produce disposable face masks and respirators, the supply for isolation gowns was compressed.

Reduced concern over face shields and hand sanitizer is likely due to the fact that many health systems have found alternative suppliers to produce these products for them. For instance, 43 percent of respondents are working with alternative suppliers to produce face shields, including 3D printers, and 33 percent are working with alternative suppliers like local distilleries to make hand sanitizer.

Arguably, there are advantages to hospital gowns. They are functional, allow doctors to gain easy access to the patient to conduct a physical examination. They are also cheap and easy to clean. But researchers in Finland have argued that wearing a patient gown is often unnecessary and can even be traumatic for some patients. A recent study found that patients are often asked to wear hospital gowns even when there is no medical reason for them to do so.

With the rapid growth of the global economy and the continuous improvement of people's living standards, medical and health services are also advancing at a high speed. There are continuous medical operations every day. The demand for surgical drapes, mattresses and other medical surgical drapes is even more immeasurable.

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