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Abstract

Since March 2020 when the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic was widespread in the U.S., masks became a primary form of protection for healthcare workers when caring for patients. While wearing masks was not a new phenomenon in the health field, there is little known on how the use of them affects the patient-provider relationship. This study explored the experience of wearing masks on the patient-provider relationship in the hospital. This qualitative study involved interviews with both providers and patients at an academic hospital in the Midwest. At the time of this study, in July 2021, hospital policy required all healthcare providers and staff to wear surgical masks with patients, but patients were not required to wear masks while in their rooms. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed; they were coded using MAXQDA. Nine patients and nine providers took part in interviews. There were 4 women and 5 men in each group. The primary benefit of mask-wearing identified by both groups was safety and protection from disease. Connection with patients was a major theme as well. Providers adapted to try to improve connection in four primary ways: showing the patient their face, speaking loudly and clearly, spending additional time with patients, and being more expressive. It was also reassuring that safety was one of the main themes and encouraging that masks were not a substantial barrier to communication with patients.

Experience Framework

This article is associated with the Staff & Provider Engagement lens of The Beryl Institute Experience Framework (https://www.theberylinstitute.org/ExperienceFramework).

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