What is the Difference Between Surgical and Isolation Gowns?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential for patient and medical professional safety. While hospitals and healthcare facilities help those with various medical issues, they can also be sources of infectious disease. Infection control is critical in reducing the risk of disease transmission, and PPE plays an essential role in any control strategy.

A medical protective gown is a standard form of protective clothing worn by medical professionals, patients, and visitors. Gowns act as a barrier, preventing direct contact with the patient and reducing the risk of bacterial or fluid exposure. While all medical gowns may appear the same at a glance, several different types provide varying levels of protection, including surgical and isolation gowns.

Differentiating between surgical and isolation gowns can be confusing. While surgical gowns are suitable for use in all medical scenarios, some procedures require larger critical zones of protection, meaning a surgical isolation gown is needed. To understand the difference between surgical and isolation gowns, you must first learn about the different levels of barrier protection.

Levels of Protection

Medical gowns are classified according to how much protection they offer. These protection levels refer to the gown’s capability to prevent the wearer from being exposed to fluids and bloodborne pathogens. The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) outline the quality standards that each gown level must meet. All medical gowns and surgical equipment undergo strict testing to determine the protection level and ensure the safety of the wearer and the patient.

The four levels of barrier protection are:

Level 1 – Minimal-Risk

Level 1 gowns offer low levels of barrier protection, meaning they should only be used when the risk of fluid exposure is minimal. They are often worn by hospital visitors or by doctors and nurses during check-ups and non-invasive procedures. They are unsuitable for tasks such as drawing blood.

Level 2 – Low Risk

These gowns are more effective at blocking fluids than level 1 gowns. They can stand up to contact with fluid that occurs through splashes or splatters. Level 2 gowns are tested stringently to ensure they perform adequately. They are suitable for tasks that have a low risk of fluid penetration, such as drawing blood or doing rounds in the ICU.

Level 3 – Moderate-Risk

Level 3 gowns offer the wearer a good level of protection and are designed for use in moderate-risk medical scenarios. They are frequently worn in the emergency room (ER) and for invasive procedures such as arterial blood draws or inserting intravenous (IV) lines. They are tested to ensure efficacy against liquid soakage and splatters.

Level 4 – High-Risk

Level 4 gowns are designed for medium to high-risk medical scenarios. They offer the highest level of liquid barrier protection and are the go-to gowns for surgeries and other fluid-intensive procedures. These gowns are heavy-duty, preventing bodily fluids and bacterial pathogens from penetrating the garment for up to one hour.

High-risk gowns undergo strict testing with simulated blood to ensure they are effective. They are worn frequently during pandemic outbreaks as the risk of infection in hospitals is extremely high. Maximum precaution must be taken when dealing with patients with suspected infection with a highly communicable disease.

Surgical and Isolation Gowns

Features of a Surgical Gown

A surgical gown is FDA recognized as a Class II medical device. It must receive a 510(k) premarket notification before it can be distributed. Surgeries are highly controlled procedures that require meticulous sanitation standards, meaning all surgical gowns are suitable for every risk level. Every surgical gown is clearly labeled, ensuring there is no confusion over its purpose.

One of the main distinguishing factors of a surgical gown is the critical zone of protection. Critical zones refer to the areas on the body of the wearer and the patient that are most vulnerable to the transmission of disease or hazardous pathogenic microorganisms during a surgical procedure.

For standard surgical gowns, the critical zones of protection are primarily based on the front of the body. They stem from the top of the shoulders and go all the way to the knees and from the wrist cuffs to just above the elbows.

Features of Isolation Gowns

The main difference between isolation gowns and surgical gowns relates to the critical zones of protection. With isolation gowns, the entire garment is regarded as a critical zone, apart from the binding, cuffs, and hems. The material used to create these critical zones must meet the highest standards for the level the gown is categorized as.

While there are surgical isolation gowns, not all isolation gowns are suitable for surgery or invasive procedures. Isolation gowns are available with different levels of barrier protection, from 1 to 4. Non-surgical isolation gowns are categorized as Class I medical devices.

Choosing the Right Gown

Choosing the right gown depends on the risk level of the procedure and the preference of the healthcare facility. The gown you choose must be of an adequate liquid barrier protection level for the task at hand. Gowns must be fit for purpose and offer suitable protection for the assigned procedures.

Some healthcare facilities use mainly disposable gowns made from polyethylene or polypropylene. Reusable gowns are usually manufactured using cotton or synthetic materials. Synthetic gowns are latex-free, making them suitable for people with allergies.

Each gown should fit the wearer precisely. An over or undersized gown can lead to obstruction or contamination during a medical procedure. Wearers must be trained to don and doff gowns correctly.

Visit ICU Productions Inc. for Quality Medical Gowns

Deciding whether you require surgical or isolation gowns is crucial for the health and safety of staff and patients at your medical facility. At ICU Productions Inc, we provide fully tested, FDA-approved PPE for a variety of industries, from medical to retail. For more information or to shop from our full range of medical gowns, browse our website.