Empowering patients with humor and a T-shirt

An Illinois physician says medical T-shirts can help patients deal with illness.

By Damon Adams — Posted Feb. 20, 2006

Print  |   Email  |   Respond  |   Reprints  |   Like Facebook  |   Share Twitter  |   Tweet Linkedin

Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. Westby Fisher, MD, likes patients to wear them on the front of a T-shirt.

Sporting a T-shirt with a catchy phrase helps empower patients over their condition, raises awareness about illnesses and allows healing with a good laugh. That's the philosophy behind MedTees, the medical T-shirt company Dr. Fisher started with his wife.

For obsessive compulsives, there's a T-shirt with a pencil out of line with other office supplies and the words, "Bother You?" Amputees have a shirt emblazoned with "Dude Where's My Leg?" And for patients with an implantable cardiac defibrillator, there's a heart with the phrase "Careful ... I'm Wired!"

"It's a prescription for your long-term health after you leave the hospital," said Dr. Fisher, director of cardiac electrophysiology at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare in suburban Chicago. "These are people who have a medical problem and are moving on. The hope is maybe the T-shirt will be a little inspirational."

The shirts also are a little charitable. Dr. Fisher said 10% of each shirt sold through his company's Web site (link) goes to charities that deal with illnesses the T-shirts reflect, such as cancer, arthritis and Crohn's disease.

Sales have continued to grow nationwide since Dr. Fisher and his wife Diane Fisher, PhD, a clinical psychologist, began MedTees in May 2005. They have sold about 1,000 shirts.

"The T-shirts strike to the core of what patients have to deal with everyday. It opens lines of communication. It opens awareness to diseases," Dr. Westby Fisher said.

He came up with the idea after reading a newspaper article about a man who pitched his Web site via a T-shirt. Dr. Fisher found a shirt maker and put up a Web site. Today, MedTees' wares include shirts, coffee mugs, caps and jogging outfits, ranging from $12.99 to $49.99.

Sometimes, T-shirt ideas occur to Dr. Fisher as he goes through everyday activities. A brainstorm may strike on his drive home. A clever concept may crystallize when he's talking to a patient or another doctor.

The Fishers have more than 120 designs, about half of which came from patients. Dr. Fisher said he hasn't had anyone say the shirts are inappropriate. Acceptance may have something to do with baby boomers' openness.

"They want things more on the table than past generations," Dr. Diane Fisher said. "The patients seem ready to do this."

Dwight Mensinger of San Jose, Calif., wears a sweatshirt with one of the most-popular slogans: "Death. Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt." The cardiac-arrest survivor who had quadruple heart bypass surgery said he dons it when he speaks about heart health at hospitals and schools. The T-shirt suits him well.

"Some people roll their eyes. Some people say, 'Are you into Goth or something,' " Mensinger said. "It's kind of hard to talk to someone about cardiac arrest, but when I wear the T-shirt, people come up and talk to me. It opens the door."

Back to top



Read story

Confronting bias against obese patients

Medical educators are starting to raise awareness about how weight-related stigma can impair patient-physician communication and the treatment of obesity. Read story

Read story


American Medical News is ceasing publication after 55 years of serving physicians by keeping them informed of their rapidly changing profession. Read story

Read story

Policing medical practice employees after work

Doctors can try to regulate staff actions outside the office, but they must watch what they try to stamp out and how they do it. Read story

Read story

Diabetes prevention: Set on a course for lifestyle change

The YMCA's evidence-based program is helping prediabetic patients eat right, get active and lose weight. Read story

Read story

Medicaid's muddled preventive care picture

The health system reform law promises no-cost coverage of a lengthy list of screenings and other prevention services, but some beneficiaries still might miss out. Read story

Read story

How to get tax breaks for your medical practice

Federal, state and local governments offer doctors incentives because practices are recognized as economic engines. But physicians must know how and where to find them. Read story

Read story

Advance pay ACOs: A down payment on Medicare's future

Accountable care organizations that pay doctors up-front bring practice improvements, but it's unclear yet if program actuaries will see a return on investment. Read story

Read story

Physician liability: Your team, your legal risk

When health care team members drop the ball, it's often doctors who end up in court. How can physicians improve such care and avoid risks? Read story

  • Stay informed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn