Clear masks help connect providers, patients

March 30, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership, ,

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Pam McGuinty lost her hearing when she was 2 years old. With cochlear implants, she has managed her hearing loss by reading lips and limited use of American Sign Language (ASL).  

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, and simple face-to-face conversation became difficult. Masks and video calls became the norm for conversations.  

For people like McGuinty and other patients who depended on lip reading and facial expressions for effective communication, the masks became an obstacle. The world became inaccessible overnight. Going to doctors, dentists or other health care professionals and being able to communicate with her providers proved to be too large of a challenge, and a safety concern if key information was at risk of being missed or misunderstood.

When the pandemic hit, McGuinty had to cancel or delay her doctors’ appointments because of this inability to communicate effectively with her providers in the new ‘masked’ environment. It took months to reschedule appointments and ensure that clear masks, which enabled lip reading, were available for her appointment. 

The team of  ASL interpreters with Interpreter Services, realized that many Deaf and Hard of Hearing patients were facing similar challenges. As recommended by the Association for Medical Professionals with Hearing Loss (AMPHL), Michigan Medicine interpreters have been using masks with a clear panel with these patients and Deaf professionals for years. These particular masks were the only FDA-approved masks, until recently. Since the pandemic, other companies have produced similar FDA-approved masks.  

 “Since the pandemic, we thought it would benefit patients who needed lip reading, but even patients that use sign language liked them, to see facial expressions,” said Christa Moran, supervisor of ASL interpreters with Michigan Medicine.

Many Michigan Medicine providers have recognized that wearing clear masks has benefited patients, regardless of their hearing needs.  

“You have a connection with the patient. Are they healthy? Are they struggling? You can recognize mental health cues,” said Michael McKee, M.D., associate professor of family medicine.

Using clear masks in settings such as pediatric and mental health has been found to be very beneficial for the patients, since so much of communication is non-verbal. 

“Patients being able to see my face and me being able to see them creates a better experience,” said Phillip Zazove, M.D., chair of family medicine. 

McKee and Zazove are providers in the Dexter Deaf Health Clinic. The clinic serves Deaf and Hard of Hearing Hearing patients from around Michigan.  

Interpreter Services and the Office of Patient Experience have worked with Michigan Medicine’s Supply Chain Services to stock these masks. Departments and clinics are encouraged to keep a stock of these masks for patients who may benefit. 

They can be ordered through the Supply Chain online catalog.

“I hope more providers can stock these masks in their offices,” said McGuinty. “I am able to continue to lead my life independently, and not rely on family members to join my appointments to help communicate. That is important to me.”