An elderly woman wears a medical mask in her audiology office

Last week I left my house to pickup a prescription at the pharmacy drive through window while wearing a disposable paper mask. The pharmacy technician could not understand me, so to communicate effectively, I untied the mask. Granted, we were talking through a glass window, but this alerted me to the fact that if someone with normal hearing could not understand me, communication will pose great challenges when we return to the workplace.

Most people who enter our office have difficulty hearing. Talking through a mask muffles speech, which creates a barrier to overcome. Visualizing the mouth while having a conversation gives cues for communicating. The masks that we recently ordered have a clear window over the mouth. We’re confident that using these masks will help. However, this is far from an ideal solution.

We are quite concerned about what our patients are experiencing right now. With social distancing, we are communicating at a distance of six feet which is difficult if not impossible with a loss of hearing. Going to the grocery store, socializing with others, or processing and collecting information at a medical appointment is more difficult than it used to be. If conversation is not understood, ask the person to write down what is being said. Request a written summary after any medical visit.

Thinking into the future is important for us so that we can plan for communicating with our patients. Masks pose so many concerns. Talking on the phone while wearing a mask makes conversation sound mushy. Wearing a mask is uncomfortable. Eyeglasses steam up. The list goes on. We will need to have a generous supply of masks on hand.

Anyone who walks through the door of our office will need a mask to enter. A huge shout out and thank you to our partners at Starkey Hearing Technologies for making it possible to obtain the personal protection equipment that we will need before opening our doors.

We are all going to have to try a little harder. Remember to speak slowly and distinctly. Face the person you are talking to. Don’t turn your head when you are having a conversation. Ask the person who you are communicating with if they understood your directions.

We all look forward to the future when life becomes a little easier. Until then, be cognizant of the communication difficulties created by wearing a mask. Be patient. Be kind. We all deserve it.