When it comes to covering a patient’s … dignity, the inadequacy of hospital gowns often makes them a punchline in jokes.

For patients and their medical providers, the intimate exposure of their genitals during treatment is no joke.

As an orthopedic and sports medicine surgeon at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Bruce Levy regularly experienced patients’ discomfort with their exposure as they were spread-eagled with their feet in stirrups for a hip procedure. A small blue towel would be used to cover the patient, though it would often fall, causing more embarrassment.

It was a daily situation that bothered him.

“It is my philosophical belief that medical providers and hospital institutions are responsible for maintaining patient’s personal privacy and dignity,” said Bruce Levy. “It’s not right to have our patients so exposed.”

Eventually, he went home one day and told his wife, Heather Levy, that “We have to do better.”

That led to sketches of possible groin-covering garments and trips to the store for underwear to use in experiments. A lot of cutting and sewing followed.

Eventually, they created an adjustable prototype that both covered the patient’s groin as well as allowing doctors access for treatment.

“It is something a patient can wear from the moment they get undressed, during a procedure and then through post-op,” said Heather Levy.

In 2012, the Levys signed an agreement with Mayo Clinic for the project. They officially formed Covr Medical in 2014. Covr won the “Walleye Tank” business contest in 2016, which is the Minnesota version of “Shark Tank.”

After being certified by the Food and Drug Administration as a Class I medical device, the early versions of the Covr garment were tried out in many Mayo Clinic departments.

Covr has three styles of its garment. All are made of non-woven cloth, the same elastic used in baby clothes and “non-scratchy” hook-and-loop fasteners. They are not reusable, though one patient can wear a Covr garment throughout his or her care.

While still considered a start-up, Covr now has an office in the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator and is producing about 1,600 garments a month for customers as the business ramps up to the next level.

The garments are created at a facility in New York and assembled in Mexico, with the headquarters based in Rochester.

Along the way, medical industry veteran Romeo Catracchia joined the Covr team. He started as a consultant, then asked to be part of company after realizing its potential.

“I was looking for a legacy product,” said Catracchia, who is now Covr’s chief commercial officer. “I think this is the right product at the right time. Both aspects are essential.”

Now the challenge is to expand the customer base beyond the “friendly walls” of Mayo Clinic and the early adopters. It is a significant shift in mindset for the slow-to-change medical industry.

“From the beginning of time, you go to the doctor and you get naked,” said Heather Levy of what most medical professionals and patients expect.

The business model is that hospitals and doctors purchase the garments for patients to use. Very early estimates put the market for the garments at $10 million, though they keep adding to list of potential procedures where the garments could be used.

The company has lined up national distribution partnerships with health care supply distributors such as Cardinal Health and Owens & Minor.

“The resistance is strong. I think the patients are probably going to be the ones will drive this,” said Bruce Levy.

One patient having a hip replacement in California found Covr garments online and pushed his physician into buying them for him. One of Dr. Levy’s patients gratefully told him that she was more anxious about being exposed than the actual hip procedure.

Inside Mayo Clinic, nurses and technicians are telling the Levys how much they appreciate the garments.

Patients are not the only ones uncomfortable with their exposure. Members of the medical teams don’t normally say anything, but tell the Levys that they really appreciate how the garments reduce the tension in a procedure room.

“Every day I get high-fived, fist-bumped and thanked by staff for making this,” said Bruce Levy.

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