10 Ways to Improve Patient Interaction While Wearing a Mask

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The following is an excerpt from a recent article published by MedPage Today. The link to the full article can be found at the bottom of the page. 


A new family medicine resident recently wrote to us about the challenges communicating with patients while wearing a mask.


"I want to be able to read their body language," wrote Alyssa Gerth, DO. "I also want to be able to expressively convey joy, empathy, compassion, understanding, and other emotions during a patient visit that can usually be communicated through the face or through professional touch."


She continued, "My fear is that my patient-doctor rapport will suffer with these masks and that I won't be able to connect with my patients as I wish to."


Gerth's concerns are well founded. Nonverbal communication is an essential skill for clinicians and can increase patient satisfaction and adherence. But, wearing a mask hinders our ability to nonverbally communicate effectively. Words are muffled and the facial expressions clinicians rely on to express emotion are concealed. Even more, interpreting patients' emotions and reactions becomes more challenging.

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As clinician-educators and researchers in the field of healthcare communication, we turned to the research to compile 10 strategies to help clinicians, like Gerth, communicate while wearing a mask. The strategies represent four types of communication behaviors known to increase empathy and relational closeness:


  • Immediate (minimize psychological distance)
  • Convergent (express perceived and desired similarity)
  • Responsive (convey genuine concern and compassion)
  • Affiliative (communicate friendliness, warmth, and openness)
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