Devola Funk’s Health Care Reminder: “You feel healthier when you’re dressed.”

"Conversation" side of the Jack and Jill room

"Exam" side of the Jack-and-Jill room

A Mayo Clinic patient, Devola Funk, said something to me the other day that stopped me in my tracks and got me thinking.

“When I’m dressed I feel healthier than I do in a paper gown,” Ms. Funk said. I was absolutely stunned to hear how she had so firmly, confidently and clearly equated the state of being clothed with the state of being healthy.

The shock must have shown on my face because Ms. Funk paused a moment, smiled gently, and then rephrased her gem.

“How can I talk about my health while sitting in a paper gown?” she said and repeated: “When I get dressed, I feel healthier.”

She had just been seen by Dr. John Paat, an internist at Mayo’s Center for Innovation (CFI), in a new two-room consultation suite designed by the CFI  in collaboration with General Internal Medicine, called “Jack and Jill Rooms.” In the Jack and Jill Rooms, patients spend most of their time discussing their health while fully clothed, sitting with the doctor at a round table in an office designed to feel something like a living room.

There is no examination table present and only one medical instrument, a blood pressure monitor. The exam table is located in an adjoining room where the patients don their gowns, submit to the necessary pokes and prods, and then quickly redress to join the doctor at the round table, where they continue their conversation as equals.

The remarkable thing is that according to Ms. Funk, this arrangement, with the dressed and undressed portion of the visit happening in two separate rooms, not only felt more comfortable and dignified to her than the one-room version.

It actually made her feel healthier, because she feels healthier when she is dressed.

We’ve heard for years about how cool it will be, in our glorious technological future, to wear clothing that monitors our blood pressure and plays tinkling musical reminders to take our pills.

A tot’s pajamas with sewn-in sensors will alert us if baby is growing short of breath in the crib. Electrodes hidden in Grandpa’s socks will analyze his gait and warn if he’s at risk for a fall.

Now, believe me, I love the promise of telemedicine. I love the idea that smart clothing as a “telemedicine platform” will keep me in better touch with my doctor and others taking care of me.

But I love even more Ms. Funk’s reminder that simply by wearing comfortable clothing, I can feel healthier.

That kind of health plan doesn’t put me in closer touch with my doctor, necessarily. But it puts me a lot more in touch with myself.

Suddenly, I’m a one-man dispensary every morning, treating myself with socks, pants, shirts, shoes, a hat and a coat.

When you put on your clothes as if taking medicine, you can literally feel the warm rush of health as you put on each new soft, protective layer. There is no side effect but contentment.

And if I feel healthier, who’s to say I’m not?

Thanks to Ms. Funk, for the past several days I’ve gone around feeling incredibly healthy. Suddenly, it seems like a miracle that every morning I am able to put on layers of clothing that embrace me, warm me and protect me.

I have never before seen my clothing as medicine.

But now I’m seeing it that way all day, and I feel great.

My sense of gratitude that this miracle repeats itself every morning, and then lasts all day, has further enveloped me like a warm, protective cocoon surrounding my body and spirit.

It’s made me rethink my attitude towards health care innovation.

On the one hand, I know firsthand the benefits of technological innovation in the treatment of disease. It has extended and improved my own life, and the lives of many of my friends and family, countless times over the years. As it has for most of us.

At the same time, magical innovation happened in the Jack and Jill Rooms that wasn’t technological at all.

It was human. It applied ancient wisdom. It was simple.

It was Devola Funk’s Health Care Reminder: You feel healthier when you’re dressed.

Some doctors and designers listened, and some health and happiness occurred.

By Doug McGill