Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=185972
Story Retrieval Date: 12/6/2013 5:14:01 PM CST
Every year, an estimated 1.7 million patients in the United States acquire an infection while hospitalized resulting in nearly 100,000 deaths and an additional $6.5 billion in health care costs, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dr. Charles Kinder of Chicago is on a mission to reduce those numbers through his company DocFroc, which produces antibacterial lab coats and scrubs.
Kinder, a heart-rhythm cardiologist at the Heart Care Centers of Illinois, founded DocFroc in June 2010 after pitching the idea to fellow gym member Jerry Levy at the East Bank Club downtown. Levy, a retired U.S. Marine who has been in the fabric business for 40 years, owns Blue Devil Textiles Inc. in North Carolina.
The business partners both had experiences with people they knew who died from bacteria-related illnesses in hospitals, fueling their interests in starting DocFroc.
In 2008, one of Kinder’s patients who underwent surgery died from a hospital-acquired infection. After analyzing the source, he said the strain of bacteria the patient died from was also present in another patient in the same hospital unit who had the same nurse.
“My introduction to the idea that garments could carry bacteria didn’t come until three years ago when I had tragically had this patient die of a complication completely unrelated to the surgery,” Kinder said.
Levy, whose mother-in-law acquired a staph infection after shoulder surgery, could relate to Kinder’s mission. Levy specializes in bed sheets and curtains coated with stain repellant and antimicrobial finishes sold to Veterans Affairs hospitals.
Prevention is key to minimizing infections in health-care settings. The Centers for Disease Control emphasize frequent hand washing for doctors and nurses, but this doesn’t take care of bacteria left behind on the garments of medical staff.
“Studies show that if you get splashed with any kind of bacteria, including the well-known MRSA [methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus], it can stay alive for hours, days and even weeks on your clothing,” Kinder explained, referring to the work of microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona.
While hospital garments are washed on a regular basis, Kinder said it isn’t practical for nurses and doctors to change clothes between every patient encounter. He saw a niche in the market for his business.
Since DocFroc began operating last June, Kinder has sold approximately 1,000 lab coats, generating $7,000 in sales and $3,500 in profit, which is being reinvested to expand the business. Scrubs did not come to market until last month, but Kinder already has plans to add more designs and colors for the summer. In the fall, DocFroc will offer three-quarter length T-shirts to wear under scrubs.
Kinder also has partnerships to sell DocFrocs through national distributor DentalGirl.com and ScrubEx, which provides scrub “vending machines” to hospitals. While he markets his bacteria-resistant hospital wear across the country, his most active customer base is in the Chicago area.
Vanguard Health Systems, which owns 27 hospitals in the U.S., will have DocFroc lab coats in all four of its Illinois hospitals—MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn, Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park and West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park—by July 1.
Residents at MacNeal began using Kinder’s lab coats last summer, and attending physicians have begun purchasing the coats as well, according to Dr. Chuck Bareis, the hospital’s chief medical officer.
“There are significant costs to outfitting the staff,” Bareis said, “But with this lab coat, it’s hard for bugs to stick. There is a real intrinsic appeal to hospitals.”
Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet and Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago also have purchased DocFrocs.
“We’re very happy our staff is wearing the coats,” said Mary Leahy, staff manager at Provena Saint Joseph.
A DocFroc lab coat sells for $70, compared with $20 for a standard mass-produced coat. A DocFroc scrub set sells for $50, compared with about $15 for an average scrub set. Kinder’s whole price, like that of most manufacturers, is half the selling price of his garments.
The economic argument for paying a higher cost is that the long-term savings in extra health-care expenses from treating infections outweigh the initial short-term cost to outfit a medical staff. Moreover, hospitals are no longer reimbursed for treating infections acquired in their facilities.
“An ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure,” Levy said, referring to the value of DocFroc’s more expensive products. “Our goal is to change the philosophy of hospitals and health-care providers.”
Working with Levy, a testing lab in Nashville, Tenn., and a lawyer in Chicago, Kinder was able to patent his products for their antibacterial properties. The medical coats and scrubs have a double-defense system against infection. The first level is a hydrophobic layer that repels water, blood and other fluids that carry bacteria. The second level is a silver coating called Tri-Active, which kills bacteria from any fluid that seeps past the first layer.
Kinder, who used his own capital to start DocFroc, is working to expand business. He is in talks with other area hospitals including Rush University Medical Center and Northshore University Health System, about purchasing his lab coats and scrubs.
But he isn’t the only one in the market selling antibacterial medical gear. He knows he has competitors including New Jersey-based Doc’s Duds and scrub manufacturer Landeau, which sells a line of antimicrobial garments approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Kinder is in the process of presenting data to the EPA so DocFrocs can have a label saying the garments prevent hospital infection. If he gets the approval, Kinder will have one more reason to believe his line of patented American-made garments is the answer to preventing unnecessary deaths from bacterial infections.
“If this company goes bankrupt, but in the process forces the major manufacturers of lab coats and scrubs to do a quality antibacterial product,” Kinder said, “then we’ll still feel successful and that we accomplished something that will help patients.”