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Is that mask getting in the way?

A smiling Dr. Long is wearing a standard mask, and a clear mask.

April 27, 2021

For hard of hearing folks, a standard face mask creates a real barrier to understanding what's being said, especially as most people who are hard of hearing rely heavily on reading lips. Imagine the consequences of going to the doctor's office and not being able to understand what your doctor is saying. This may be the reason why some people have welcomed virtual consultations at home (without masks) in comparison to having to tolerate poor communication in a clinic, a burden placed by the mask wearing that is required to protect everyone during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But what if you are not hard of hearing? Does the mask get in the way? A new study shows that, clearly, it does. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (March 11, 2021) looked at how wearing a clear mask (which is transparent and see-through) affected the perception of communication compared with the standard mask. Patients seeing surgeons who wore clear masks were more likely to agree that the surgeon explained things clearly, displayed empathy, and generated trust. Here's the breakdown. The percentages reflect the patients who experienced the three items measured (clear communication, empathy, and trust) in each category (wearing a clear mask or the standard mask). Clear mask v. Standard Mask Clear explanation 95% 78% Displayed more empathy 99% 85% Generated trust 94% 72% What can we learn from this? Presumably the ability to see a full face, including all of the physician's non-verbal cues (especially a smile!), leads to a warmer and more supportive environment and encounter. Since 90% of communication is non-verbal, this is not surprising.

Next time you visit a physician, ask them to wear a clear mask. For specific populations, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests transparent masks as an option. Per the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers should provide face coverings to all workers at no cost, and must consider reasonable accommodations for those who require clear coverings.

At Marta Long MD, we wear clear masks with our Members for this reason. We want our explanations to be clear, and we want you to know we care about you.

To learn more about Marta Long MD, a Concierge at-home Primary Care Practice based in Irvine, California and serving Orange County, please visit

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