The wearing of face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) by healthcare workers has become a way of life.
But with many patients finding facemasks in particular a barrier in communicating, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network (SALHN) Nurse Unit Manager Anjumol Jose set about finding ways to improve communication, connection – and consequently care – for her patients.
“Communication is at the heart of everything we do,” says Anjumol, Nurse Unit Manager of Bangka Strait ward at the Repat Health Precinct.
“Our ward has a lot of long-stay elderly patients, patients who have some cognitive impairment, and patients who are living with disabilities.
“Our elderly patients often already have some difficulties hearing and there may be different cultural accents too, and when we add in a face mask it creates an additional physical barrier in understanding one another.
“We know that face masks are really important in helping to stop the spread of infection and they are here to stay for the foreseeable future, but we also know that wearing PPE can take away that empathy and sense of connection as patients can’t see our facial expressions which is such an important part of communicating.”
Anjumol researched into ways she and her colleagues could communicate more effectively with their patients, taking it on as a quality improvement project as part of SALHN’s 2022 Clinical Research Future Leaders Program.
Sponsored by Flinders Foundation and the Southern Adelaide Local Health Network (SALHN) Nurses Education and Research Fund (NERF), the program encourages nurses to pursue research by building their research skills and capabilities with guidance and expertise from the Rosemary Bryant AO Research Centre at the University of South Australia.
Among the tactics used to improve communication, Bangka Strait ward implemented communication boards for patients with pictures and other visual cues to point to. But the most impactful has been staff wearing large badges on their uniform with a photo of their unmasked faces.
“Our patients really love it, and they always tell us how nice it is they can now see our smiling faces even though we are wearing PPE,” Anjumol says.
“We hope some of these initiatives help grow our connection with patients and improve the quality of our care.”
Five nurses undertook research projects as part of the Clinical Research Future Leaders Program with varying focuses including culturally safe and appropriate care for gender and sexually diverse persons; nurse-led training to assist older persons in mental health recovery; and understanding the challenges faced by nurses during the pandemic.