Protecting medical employees and patients requires careful use and management of personal protective equipment (PPE). Isolation gowns are used daily in most hospitals and clinics, but the exact level and type vary depending on specialty, ward, and the exact procedure or exam being performed. Coverall gowns are much less common and are only worth using in specific situations.
Basic AAMI Levels
The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) developed a 4-level system for differentiating between the different fluid resistance levels of gown materials. They are the recognized standard for both isolation gowns and coveralls’ barrier protection. The tear resistance of medical gowns is governed by American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards.
AAMI Level 1 isolation gowns have to pass standardized tests for fluid resistance but not for hydrostatic pressure. Levels 2, 3, and 4 gowns provide increasing levels of protection in various situations. Level 4 gowns are designed to be impervious to pathogen exposure while still maintaining the wearer’s comfort.
Coveralls are commonly available in Levels 2, 3, and 4 material. Although it’s possible to make coveralls with Level 1 material, providing such a low level of protection from blood, body fluids, and air-borne pathogens is pointless for most situations requiring coveralls.
Isolation gowns are basic protective gowns that look like an oversized dress. They cover everything between the neck and knees with long, fitted sleeves the wearer can pull gloves over for maximum protection.
They open in the back in most cases, allowing the wearer to slide them on over their scrubs. They are easy to remove inside-out to prevent the transfer of microorganisms from the front of the gown to the wearer’s scrubs underneath.
One of the main advantages of isolation gowns is they don’t require a zipper to get in and out of. Although the ties in the back can be challenging to use independently, they are still easier to use and often more comfortable than coveralls.
When to Use Isolation Gowns
Isolation gowns are an excellent all-purpose sanitary covering for exams, blood draws, childbirth, and other low-risk procedures. The exact type of isolation gown will vary depending on the procedure and the likelihood of exposure to body fluids, but medical personnel may even wear a Level 1 isolation gown to avoid getting lint or dust on their clothing.
Even surgeons use isolation gowns as protective apparel because they rarely need the full leg and back coverage that coveralls provide. Surgical procedures require the highest level of protection possible on the front of the gown, and Level 4 isolation gowns provide this without zippers or other obstructions.
The main difference between coveralls and isolation gowns is that coveralls extend to the ankles or even have socks attached. They also cover the user’s back more fully than isolation gowns. Coveralls can be washable, but due to the highly contagious environments, they are often used in, many hospitals elect to use disposable ones.
Coveralls do not always include head coverings and may just have coverage down to the wearer’s feet. The primary type of head covering is a hood with an elastic that draws around the face to keep the wearer’s ears, hair, and neck protected.
Like isolation gowns, coveralls need to be available in various sizes to fit employees’ needs. The sleeves and legs must be long enough to cover the limbs fully, even if the employee is very tall. Since coveralls’ construction minimizes the use of elastic, coveralls that are too small will be uncomfortable and may expose the wearer to pathogens at the wrists and ankles.
Limited Uses for Coveralls
Because they take more time to get on and off and are more expensive than standard isolation gowns, coveralls should not be overused. Even with their limitations, coveralls are essential for infection control in emergencies with rare and highly contagious pathogens.
Ebola is one example of a disease that requires coverall use. Since Ebola travels in various bodily fluids that can become airborne, an infectious patient can spread the virus to a caretaker without making direct contact with their body.
Viruses that end up on an employee’s hair or skin can get transferred into the mucous membranes in their mouth or nose, potentially transmitting infection. It is difficult to safely wash a virus from hair or even hairnets before the employee leaves the patient’s room, so coveralls become necessary because it is easier to decontaminate between uses or tasks.
Coveralls should generally be used with goggles, face masks, and face shields for maximum protection. The mucous membranes of the eyes and nose can absorb some bacteria and viruses, so full-body protective clothing that ignores these critical areas may not be practical.
Maintaining an Adequate Supply
Small clinics may never need coveralls, and some hospitals may only use them on rare occasions. However, every healthcare facility needs to have an adequate supply of coveralls on hand. Even factories and other businesses that sometimes use harsh chemicals may need their employees to wear protective clothing in unexpected situations.
During public health emergencies, procuring coveralls and isolation gowns can quickly become difficult. ICU Production Inc. is your reliable source for many types of PPE, including gowns, masks, goggles, face shields, and other essentials. We even have hand sanitizer and supplies for kids to keep everyone safe when it matters most.
Our team is standing by to make sure you get the medical gowns you need to be prepared for any scenario. Call our PPE hotline at (323) 970-2513 to place your order.