How important is it for a doctor to wear a face mask if a patient can’t understand what they are saying?

Hearing Health & Technology Matters
June 19, 2020

What’s more important for the patient who has hearing loss, preventing the spread of COVID-19 or being able to communicate effectively with their doctor? Is there another way to have both?

Today, most guidelines call for six feet of social distancing, whenever possible. At medical centers and health clinics, the doctors and the patients are required to wear a face covering or mask. 

How will the new policies at hospitals and health clinics that require masks and face shields affect the patient’s ability to hear their doctor?

Please watch this video and respond in the comments so we can have a healthy discussion about what’s best for our community who has hearing loss and the most effective way to communicate with our doctors. Of course, as well as helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.

A recent study (Goldin et. al, 2020) on the acoustic effects of medical masks found that high-frequency speech information was reduced by 3-4 dB for simple medical masks and close to 12 dB for N95 masks. These findings show that medical masks have an adverse impact on speech understanding.

Well, how about the option for health clinics to use clear face masks? This would allow the patient who relies on lip reading and facial cues to be able to see their doctor’s face during the appointment. Although clear face masks are available, they are not commonly used at this time.

How can we educate doctors and medical providers about the effects of masks on communication? If you share this post or the attached video, the conversation will reach more doctors. That means more healthcare providers will use voice-to-text captioning apps, write down important information, and ask for verbal confirmation that their patients understand the next steps in their treatment process.



  1. Goldin A, Weinstein BE, Shiman N. How do medical masks degrade speech perception? Hearing Review. 2020;27(5):8-9.


Ben Thompson, AuD is an audiologist and tinnitus specialist in California. He is the founder of Pure Tinnitus, a new tele-health company based in California. Dr. Thompson creates educational videos and hosts an online group coaching program for the tinnitus community. For a limited time, he is giving free access to his e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Tinnitus Relief: 7 Strategies to Control Your Tinnitus, click here to learn more.


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