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Health Care remains the largest sector that bears the greatest influence on the future of fabric and textile industries because it constitutes 60% of the marketplace for their products across the world. Hospitals and other health care facilities require a diversity of fabric and textile products such as blankets, draperies, beddings, privacy curtains, furniture and medical furnishings, wall and floor coverings and protective clothing (Gary, p. 23). The textile industries strive to diversify their products and further guarantee the health care sector that their (textile industry) range of products can adequately meet the clinical needs. As such, the healthcare sector remains the only determinant in the design and development of new products in the textile industry.
According to the Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), a campaign for environmentally responsible health care with a network of about 500 organizations in 52 countries, “there is a dire need to transform the health care industry worldwide without compromising the patient safety or care” (HCWH, p. 132). The health care movement further postulates that virtually all medical supplies (inclusive of fabrics) must be ecologically sustainable, cause no harm to the public health, patient or the health care environment. In the spirit of the ongoing global health care campaign, the design, construction, and routine operations of the health care facilities should be transformed so as to foster healthy, healing environment through minimization of detrimental environmental impacts.
In a separate count, United States Health Care Services has not only formulated but also implemented a standardized guideline that precisely dictates the type and quality of fabrics to be used in its facilities across the federal states. Suffice it to say, the guided materials selection is geared towards improving material lifecycle, quality of life, and healthier building materials. The new orientation in the health care sector helps in the subsequent elimination of incinerating medical waste, dramatic reduction in the amount and toxicity of resultant wastes, and instead promotes utilization of safer materials.
2.0 How health care has affected the future of fabrics and textiles
It is important to note that a series of revolutions and transformations within the health care industry cascaded into the fabrics and textiles industries. The latter is focused on developing a variety of new products that will meet the standards and specifications laid down by the consumer regulatory authorities in the health care industry. For the last decade, the textile has remarkably recognized health care industry as the chief marketplace for its products- a phenomenon that has prompted development of new medical care products other than the classical ones such as blackest, beddings, and general clothing. The effects of healthcare are manifested in the textile industry as outlined in this paper.
2.1 Discontinued use of natural fiber in the healthcare materials
A joint research in the health care and textile industries has made shocking findings about the effectiveness, suitability, and safety of various fabric materials commonly used in the provision of patient care. The research findings reveal that the most popular natural and synthetic fabric materials used in the health care faced lots of limitations as a preferred choice. The natural cotton and linen are the most disadvantageous to use as fabric materials in the health care environment; both of them wrinkle and spread infections if used in the dressing of septic wounds notwithstanding their disinfections.
Similarly, wool and flax have also proven to be irritants; the studies found out that many patients complain of skin irritations when they use woolen fabrics. Just like cotton, wool shrinks to a greater extent (Gary, p. 67). Other independent medical journals also link wool to the systemic spread of microbial infections within the health care facilities. Silk as a natural fiber has limitations too. It is extremely delicate to handle and short-lived in its applications. It is therefore not cost effective to use as a fabric in the provision of care to patients because it does not meet the test of durability and low cost.
Fully aware that health care industry is the largest consumer of various products from the textile industries; the latter had no option but to formulate new strategies on how to recapture the declining market. The fabric producers are obliged to come up with new materials that could readily gain acceptance in the hospitals, nursing homes, senior residences and other health care facilities in the whole world. This called for a dramatic drift from the production of expensive natural fibers to cheaper and convenient synthetic ones or a combination of the two types of fibers. Even though changes in production methods within the textile industries were initiated by the growing clinical demands of the health care, the aftermath spilled over to all other sectors.
3.0 Introduction of new fabric materials
Following the limitations of fabric materials used in the last two decades, the textile industries have extensively explored alternative fabric materials that can adequately satisfy the ever changing needs of the health care facilities. The newly discovered synthetic materials such as nylon, polyvinylchloride (PVC), and other categories of polysaccharides came up as a result of an exhilarating motivation that emanated from the health care industry. In facts and figures, pure natural fibers are seldom used in fabric materials; only smaller percentages of the natural fibers get combined with larger portions of synthetic material in an attempt to come up with cheaper and long lasting products. In the modern societies, these materials are extensively used both for domestic and industrial purposes.
The studies are categorical that any preferred fabric material of choice in the health care sector must combine the elements of cost effectiveness, durability, and bio-safety. Considering that it is a rare thing to find all these desirable qualities in one particular fabric material, modern technologies in the textile industries have come up with new materials that are specifically designed to suit their intended purposes. “Vinyl fabric is commonly used for tackboard coverings, drapery linings, furniture coverings, trims, and shower curtains” (Gary, p. 76). The U.S health care annual procurement quotation indicates that millions of yards of the vinyl upholstery fabric get consumed within its constituent health care institutions.
The vinyl fibers, rayon, polyurethane, olefins, increasingly gained popularity in the healthcare facilities across the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia because they are stain free, washable, waterproof, and easy to sterilize and come in assortment of colors. Even though the blend of two softening phthalates and Dioxin with the vinyl fiber has been popular in the American and European health care institutions, the historic ban on the product due to its long term toxicity to the end users has invoked a yet another revolution in the textile industry. The fabric producers are still determined to develop new types of fibers that will address the health care needs once again. Meanwhile, production of polyvinyl for other parallel purposes also seems to be on the decline.
4.0 Impacts of Health care revolutions on enhancement of fabric materials
Professor Gary Johnson, head of Textile Studies at the Hamburg Institute of Technology, maintains that medical revolutions of the 21st century in the health care sector play a significant role in enhancing technological advancement within the textile industries. Following the discoveries of the recent medical research conducted by a team of medical experts drawn from the reputable World Center for Cancer Studies, 80% of the petrochemical based fibers such vinyl and plastics are carcinogenic in nature, organic pollutant, and non-biodegradable.
Current research in the field of textile is deeply embedded in technological advancements to develop recyclable fabric materials to replace the petrochemical ones. Bio-plastics and proteinous resin and other tough digestible carbohydrates characterize modern fabric produced by the latest textile technologies. The much desirable stain- and dirt-free qualities of the resultant fiber are attained through lasting effects of stain repellents, flame retardants, and antimicrobials chemical compounds (Julie, p. 231). For the purposes of producing better fibers that meet the expectations of the health care, the textile industries have fully embraced the most sophisticated nanotechnology for the production of Nano-fibers.
It is apparent that contemporary trend in the health care sector has greatly influenced product advancements in the textile industries. Types of fabric produced by the textile industries at any particular time is dependent on the required fabric specifications stipulated in the procurement guidelines of the health care industries and other underlying regulatory authorities. Secondly, health care sector, such as hospitals, nursing homes and care facilities, provide the largest market share for fabric products such as blankets, protective cloths, dressings, clinical supplies, blankets, beddings and covers.
The dramatic shifts from the use of natural fibers (cotton, flax, wool and silk) through the second generation synthetic fibers such as vinyl to the latest nano-fibers have been driven by the ever changing clinical or medical needs within the health care facilities. Any type of fiber in use must guarantee the end user or patient of bio-safety and comfort besides environmental friendliness around the health care environments. Constant attempts towards meeting these dynamic criteria define the future of the textile and fabrics.