A guide to communication while wearing PPE
Thursday, January 28, 2021
COVID-19 has brought about many new and unique challenges which most of us never expected to face in our healthcare careers. The biggest impact has been the increased use of PPE, especially face masks and face coverings. As healthcare professionals, we know that face coverings will be with us for quite some time, and they have already presented some issues with our communication.
Communication isn’t just speaking words. It’s about your body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. All these factors have been affected when wearing PPE. Sadly, it makes it very difficult for clients to see full facial expressions, lip read and hear you speak. It may cause clients to feel frustrated, stressed and anxious, which can cause an uncomfortable atmosphere for everyone.
Effective communication with our clients is vital. It can be challenging when clients have disabilities which impair their communication or their understanding of our communication. Face masks then create an additional barrier to this communication for both the wearer and the client. Wearing a mask may lead us to communicate and verbalise less as we are conscious of the face covering.
As healthcare professionals, it is our responsibility to be aware of how we are perceived by clients, particularly when they are unable to read our facial expressions and emotions due to being obscured by masks/visors. Paying attention to our clients, and our own, verbal and non-verbal communication cues have never been more important. It allows us to continue to deliver exceptional tailored clinical care to each of our clients in their own homes.
There are many ways to maintain your communication when wearing face coverings. I’ve compiled together my top list of tips and tricks for you to consider when delivering care.
- Speak clearly and calmly. When communicating with a client, try speaking slowly and pronounce your words clearly. It may be worth raising the volume of your voice slightly to make sure you can be heard through the face mask or visor you’re wearing. Remember not to shout or raise your voice too much as this may scare or confuse them.
- Focus is key. It’s important to maintain your focus and make sure when you're communicating to really concentrate on the client. Doing so will help you to read their reactions and facial expressions to gauge whether they can understand you.
- Maintain eye contact. Eye contact is another way of telling the client you are communicating with them. It’s important to look at the client when you are speaking with them so they are aware and engaged.
- Remember to smile! Despite the clients not being able to see your mouth, they will most certainly be able to tell when you're smiling. Your eyes will light up, and your eyebrows will be raised. A simple smile can make someone's day and it’s important to remember this.
- Avoid sudden movements. As it can be difficult to be heard clearly when wearing a face covering, it’s important to remain calm and move slowly so you don't startle them.
- Use your body language. It’s important to use your body language to show you are calm and in control of the situation. If the client is struggling to hear you, use your body language and movements to show them what you're trying to explain.
- Be self-aware. Remember to think about how your communication could be perceived by the clients. Remember, they won’t be able to read your facial expressions or see your mouth move when you speak.
- Utilise your imagination. If you're struggling to communicate with your client and their family, utilise what’s around you. Whether that’s typing your message on your phone or writing it on a piece of paper, it might make things more manageable. When caring for younger clients consider drawing funny pictures to keep them engaged and entertained, especially if they are feeling stressed or anxious and unable to hear you.
With all of these useful tips, communicating while wearing PPE should become more manageable for yourself, colleagues and clients. If you're looking for more guidance, the Royal College of Nursing has produced an essential advice page on PPE and COVID-19.
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