Image of a senior man being visited by a clinician, both wearing face masks

Personal protective equipment, such as masks and face shields, is negatively impacting the quality of care provided to residents and patients with hearing loss, a survey of healthcare providers has found. 

Just more than 85% of survey respondents reported that since the pandemic a patient’s hearing difficulty has either moderately or extremely impacted the quality of care provided. Less than half as many felt it impacted care quality before the pandemic, according to the findings. 

“The results of this national survey suggest that the implementation of safety measures such as PPE and physical distancing has altered awareness of hearing difficulties and practice patterns of healthcare providers,” lead author William James Deardorff, M.D., and his University of California colleagues wrote of the survey findings. 

“Specifically, providers were more likely to recognize that hearing difficulties adversely impacted the quality of care received and to experience obstacles to providing care based on mask-wearing,” the researchers added. 

The survey also found that many providers have implemented techniques to better facilitate communication. More than 9 in 10 said they were very likely or somewhat likely to use strategies such as reducing background noises and using live captioning, sound amplifiers and real-time speech-to-text applications to improve care for those with hearing issues. 

Investigators said the findings show a greater need for more education on best communication practices and that healthcare providers should be mindful of the obstacles created with the use of PPE. 

“Overall, the results of this survey demonstrate the need for new health system processes and interventions to provide equitable health care for those with hearing difficulty,” they said. 

Complete survey findings were published online Tuesday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.