Published: 11 March 2021
Authors: Ian M. Kratzke, MD; Marcy E. Rosenbaum, PhD; Chase Cox, MD; David W. Ollila, MD; Muneera R. Kapadia, MD, MME
Source: This abstract has been sourced from NZ Respiratory Research Review Issue 184
Importance During the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing masks has become necessary, especially within health care. However, to our knowledge, the consequences of mask wearing on communication between surgeons and patients have not been studied.
Objective To evaluate the effects of clear vs standard covered masks on communication during surgical clinic encounters.
Design This randomized clinical trial examined communication between surgeons and their patients when surgeons wore clear vs covered masks in surgical outpatient clinics at a single academic medical center. New patients were recruited from participating surgeons’ clinic schedules.
Interventions Surgeons wore either clear masks or covered masks for each clinic visit with a new patient, based on a per-visit randomization plan.
Main Outcomes and Measures The primary outcome measures included patient perceptions of (1) surgeon communication and (2) trust in surgeons, as well as (3) quantitative assessments and (4) qualitative assessments regarding patient impressions of the surgeon’s mask. After the clinic encounter, patients completed a verbal survey including validated Clinician and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems questions. Additional questions involved surgeon empathy, trust, and the patient’s impression of the surgeon’s mask. Data were analyzed by comparing patient data in the clear vs covered groups using Cochran-Mantel-Haenszel tests, and comments were analyzed for themes.
Results Two hundred patients were enrolled from 15 surgeons’ clinics spanning 7 subspecialties. When surgeons wore a clear mask, patients rated their surgeons higher for providing understandable explanations (clear, 95 of 100 [95%] vs covered, 78 of 100 [78%]; P < .001), demonstrating empathy (clear, 99 [99%] vs covered, 85 [85%]; P < .001), and building trust (clear, 94 [94%] vs covered, 72 [72%]; P < .001). Patients preferred clear masks (clear, 100 [100%] vs covered, 72 [72%]; P < .001), citing improved surgeon communication and appreciation for visualization of the face. Conversely, 8 of 15 surgeons (53%) were unlikely to choose the clear mask over their standard covered mask.
Conclusions and Relevance This randomized clinical trial demonstrates that patients prefer to see their surgeon’s face. Surgeons who wore clear masks were perceived by patients to be better communicators, have more empathy, and elicit greater trust. Because masks will remain part of the health care landscape for some time, deliberate attention to preserving communication within the surgeon-patient relationship is warranted.
Trial Registration ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT04595695
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