Clear face masks – DIY solution

For as long as I’ve been around deaf health professionals, clear face masks have been stuck “in development” (see below.) In the meantime, how about adapting equipment already readily available? In a message to the NOISE mailing list in 2005, Ian Thomson, Vascular Surgeon and Clinical Senior Lecturer at the University of Otago, wrote:

“We have been using clear masks which are designed for cleaning instruments in a theatre environment. With the addition of a standard surgical mask taped below the clear mask we have passed tests for contamination by theatre control. We have used this design for all nurses that scrub with me for the last two years and some hundreds of cases in two different hospitals with no change in wound infection rates.”

The adapted masks enable Mr Thomson to lipread other staff in the operating room.

Mr Thomson suggests people using this adapatation make a donation to the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses. Thank you.
Mr Thomson suggests people using this adapatation make a donation to the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses. Thank you.

Mr Thomson wrote:

“When we first started using these nearly three years ago infection control ran tests with agar culture plates on the scrub nurses’ trolley. These showed no difference in culture rates between the standard masks and the clear shields with attached masks. There has been no increase in infection rates over something close to a thousand operations( mainly vascular and renal access) performed since the introduction of these masks. All operations are audited on a computerized database. The shields have a replaceable clear plastic component and are routinely used in theatre suites by staff cleaning instruments. They are comfortable to wear and most nurses are keen to wear them even if they are just circulating rather than scrubbed in.”

Meanwhile there have been attempts to manufacter clear face masks. From the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses, I heard of two: ClearVision developed by Jeanne Hahne, RN, and the Next Gen Clear Surgical Mask, developed by Sam-Go Products. Prototypes of both were demonstrated at one of the past AMPHL conferences but both seem to have foundered, I think due to lack of funding or a willing manufacturer.

There’s an interesting video from 2009 here about the masks Jeanne Hahne was developing. (The video doesn’t have subtitles. Try this written report instead.) It’s interesting that the initial aim was to make healthcare staff more approachable for patients and reduce general barriers to communication. Benefits for deaf and hard of hearing staff were a happy by-product.

Being able to lipread won’t solve all the challenges of working in theatre and other situations where staff or patients wear masks. For example, what do you do if you’re assisting and need to hear what the surgeon is saying while both of you are looking down at the operation site? Or you’re a student observing from somewhere on the periphery? This warrants another post but in the meantime some tips are:

  • Appoint someone to communicate key information to you. They can use a white board or paper and I’ve even heard of someone using marker pen on couch roll. They can wear a clear mask and repeat key information so you can lipread them.
  • Ask the surgeon to wear the microphone and transmitter for your radio aid. This usually has to be inside their gown so speech may be obscured by rustling. And make sure the FM frequency won’t interfere with theatre equipment.
  • Use remote captioning over an internet connection with subtitles sent to your tablet or laptop.

Have you any experience of using clear face masks?

What other tips do you have for communication in the operating room?

4 thoughts on “Clear face masks – DIY solution”

  1. This is an excellent post I thank you. I would love to get my hands on these clear visors ( perhaps a product number?) and trial them so instructions on how to make the attachment with surgical masks?


  2. Hi Amy,
    check with your theatre team. I think they often wear the visors when cleaning equipment. Then it’s just a matter of taping a normal facemask to the bottom and tying it round your neck to close the gap.

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