Dr. Royer and I had a very interesting meeting with leadership from the company, Vestagen. The company produces high performance apparel for healthcare workers. The apparel has several unique qualities. “Vestagen’s VESTEX fabric has robust liquid repellency and antimicrobial properties, along with breathability, comfort and durability.” I will be the first to admit I’m not an epidemiologist nor expert in the field of contagious diseases. Therefore, my qualifications to comment on this subject might be viewed as limited. However, I have spent more time then I’d publicly care to acknowledge hunting and fishing. Any hunter or fisher-person reading this that’s 50 years or older understands the marvelous advances that have been made to keep us protected from the elements. Vestagen has taken similar technology to do what Goretex and a number of other private label fabrics have done for hunting and fishing and applied it to healthcare.
So what you say! In previous blogs, I’ve documented my father passed away in a very prestigious Dallas hospital from complications associated with a hospital-acquired infection. (Note-The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t list “hospital-acquired infections” as a cause of death category therefore no one really knows for sure how big an issue this is.) This significantly raised my awareness about hospitals being dangerous places. Do I think this product will totally eliminate hospital-acquired infections. No. Do I think their product will help protect healthcare workers and help improve patient safety and help reduce the transmittal of contagious bacteria. I do. Smarter people than me have documented how hospital acquired infections occur throughout hospitals so I won’t repeat those studies in today’s blog.
We learned the folks from Vestagen are doing what hundreds of startup companies attempt to do everyday in the healthcare industry. Trying to sell their product. Now one would think in an industry facing challenges in quality, patient safety and cost, this would be a rather simple task. Unfortunately, this is where the worlds of medical science and the practice of medicine become massive obstacles to innovation. What do I mean?
As a former healthcare CFO, I’ve seen and heard almost every conceivable approach organizational leaders will utilize to not do something that vendors are proposing. Here’s a sampling of what vendors will hear:
-We need to get the physician’s buy-in
-We need to get nursing’s buy-in
-We need to get the Chief (fill in the blank) buy-in
-We didn’t budget for it this year it’ll have to wait until next year
-We’ll have to do a cost/benefit analysis
-What will the rate of return be
-We’ll need to get board approval
-We’ll have to take to the Leadership Council
Notice in the above list I didn’t mention what might be best for the patient or for that matter the healthcare worker. That’s because most of the time these stakeholders are the last given consideration in these types of discussions.
The power of these challenges is best represented by a real life story. In 1988, the hospital system I joined had launched a hand washing initiative. Interestingly, this concept, as simple as it seems, was the result of work done by Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis in 1847 (this isn’t a typo). But as Paul Harvey would say here’s the rest of the story. The medical establishment of the time rejected Semmelweiss’s discovery. It took over twenty years for medical science to “validate” these findings through research related to germ theory. How many patients died between these events isn’t documented. These are classic examples of how medical practice and medical science can be at odds with each other. In 2016, most hospitals still struggle with the proven clinical practice of hand washing. Change can be staggeringly slow in healthcare. I describe it as an organizational immune system.
I’m no marketing guru and haven’t stayed in a Holiday Inn recently, but I am a consummate shopper and know how to find value-based products and services. Here’s a brief example. A fishing lodge I frequent won a national award from a brand name organization that sells fishing apparel and gear. That same year I noticed all the guides were decked out head to toe in that organization’s gear. Several years went by and I noticed gradually the guides had migrated back to wearing the brand they wore prior to the award. I did some simple consumer research and heard numerous product failure stories. Guess what brand I buy?
I recognize for most people that personal consumer research isn’t in the cards. In this case, AHA Solutions, Inc., a subsidiary of the American Hospital Association (AHA), has done the heavy lifting and conducted their due diligence process and awarded the AHA Endorsement. (See Vestagen’s website for the press release.)
Until my father’s hospital experience and more recently the Ebola case at Texas Health Resources Presbyterian Hospital, I wouldn’t have given healthcare worker wearing apparel a second thought. Unfortunately, circumstances have activated my awareness and are causing me to add to my views. If I were a healthcare worker or knew a healthcare worker, I’d want the best available protection from undesirable bacteria. If I were a patient, I’d want to know my healthcare workers weren’t being exposed unnecessarily to undesirable bacteria and carrying it to my or another patient’s bedside. Since it’s taken organized medicine over 150 years to marginally get hand washing adopted, I wouldn’t expect a sudden industry-wide fashion reformation based on the premise of reducing hospital acquired infections. What I do believe is, if each person reading this that’s related to, knows someone, or is the relative of a patient, buys a set of Vestagen scrubs as birthday present, Christmas present, anniversary present or just a happy your alive present, we could start what in today’s vernacular is called a “viral” event (see buyvestex.com). It’s really up to each of us.