Oklahoma Audiologist Wears Clear Mask To Communicate With Hard-Of-Hearing Patients

Friday, July 17th 2020, 8:00 am
By: Tess Maune

PAWNEE, Okla. -

A special face mask is making a big difference for one Green Country doctor and her hard-of-hearing patients.

In this COVID-19 era, work looks a little different for Dr. April Waller who, like other healthcare providers, must wear a mask when working with patients.

“Never thought I would experience a time like this,” Waller said.

Waller is an audiologist at the Pawnee Indian Health Center where she works with many hard-of-hearing patients, who often rely on reading lips to communicate. Dr. Waller said traditional face masks are making that a real challenge.               

“I didn't realize how much hearing-impaired people are going to be affected by this,” said Waller. “When they can't read your lips, trying to communicate with them is very difficult, almost impossible.”

For Waller the difficulties weren’t just at work. Her daughter is deaf in one ear and she noticed talking to each was getting harder while they were out and about.

“It really hit home when I couldn't communicate with her and she goes to a lot of doctor's appointments and I saw the doctor's struggling communicating with her and I thought, 'I have to do something,'" said Waller.

Waller's solution is a clear face mask that makes lip-reading easy.

“It has changed the whole dynamic of my patient care,” she said.

The idea came from one of her favorite TV shows, Grey’s Anatomy, which featured a deaf surgeon in season 16. In one of the episodes, medical staff wore face masks with a clear a panel so the deaf doctor could read lips while in surgery.

“And I thought, 'that is a great idea,'” Waller said. “Then this pandemic started with COVID-19 and we're all wearing face masks, so I immediately went online to order some.”

The outcome has been life-changing for Waller, but even more for her patients who are grateful to have a doctor who cares that much.

“There's a sense of relief,” said Waller. “I wish that you could see the look on my patients face when they could actually understand what I was saying.”

Waller's clear mask is FDA approved. She said she has shared them with other medical providers at the clinic. She also has a special clear mask, made by a friend, that she wears at home with her daughter.