July 28, 2021
Masks are valuable tools in limiting the spread of COVID-19, but they come with drawbacks. Among those drawbacks is the inability to share facial expressions. A recent study shows that one particular kind of mask can make a big difference to your ability to communicate with patients while masked, according to an article by Sara Berg published on the website of the American Medical Association (AMA).
A study published in JAMA Surgery points to the effectiveness of clear masks as a way to overcome this perceived barrier to effective communication. When surgeons wore clear masks rather than the standard covered masks, patients rated their surgeon significantly higher in providing understandable explanations, demonstrating empathy and eliciting trust, Berg reports.
Fifteen surgeons from a single academic institution were recruited by e-mail. Before each clinic day, surgeons were randomized to wearing a clear or standard mask for each of their new patients, donning each mask type about half the time.
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Last fall, 200 patients took part in this study. Each patient took a scripted, 10-question survey adapted from the Clinician and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey. Other questions were added to assess surgeon empathy and trust, as well as a rating on the physician’s mask.
“Wearing clear versus covered masks suggests that not seeing the surgeon’s face negatively affects patient understanding, perceived empathy and trust,” says the study. “These findings should alert surgeons, because patient perceptions may not be detectable without purposeful attention to communication. We must make every effort to protect the sacred physician-patient relationship during these unprecedented times.”