We’re living in strange times right about now. With the coronavirus pandemic warping reality in all four corners of the world, humanity’s ability to adjust is being tested to the maximum. The woes of social distancing and facial concealment have turned our regular routines into something of a makeshift exercise, doing whatever we can to make it through the day. Nowhere is this predicament more problematic than at hospitals and medical institutions, our last line of defense against the crowned virus, where the treatment of patients by doctors has had to drastically change.
Unlike in epicenters such as New York and Italy, Israel’s outbreak has so far seen a manageable number of patients in comparison, but that hasn’t quelled the difficulty in treating them. Following the COVID-19 guidelines, medical professionals are required to wear protective suits when addressing their patients, which conceal their face and cover their bodies from head to toe. While the protective gear is absolutely essential in the fight against the novel coronavirus, it also stands as a barrier between patients and the doctors working to treat them.
Let’s imagine the scenario: you have just contracted coronavirus and you are alone, without your family due to safety measures. Waiting anxiously and confused on the hospital bed, an imposing figure approaches you wearing a mysterious space-suit mask. He begins explaining the situation to you, but is he confident about your medical condition? Is he worried? Should you be worried? Considering the circumstances, this can be an intimidating experience, especially when all you need in that moment is a crumb of care and compassion. A smile from a doctor can go a long way. This is the dire situation in which many coronavirus patients are finding themselves.
But what is it about seeing a doctor’s face that would help the patients feel more at ease? Psychologists have long been interested in understanding what it is subconsciously that leads people to trust others, and facial recognition has predominantly been at the center of this research. Different characteristics in someone’s face can help us feel more comfortable with that person. Faces that look happy, even when they are not smiling, are perceived as more trustworthy. While there are many facets to this research, it’s pretty clear that just seeing someone’s face instantly helps us verify and trust that person more.
In Israel, companies have become increasingly adept at finding creative solutions to a crisis. One nonprofit organization in particular has taken it upon itself to improve the situation for both doctor and patient: the Faces Behind Masks initiative has emerged with a powerful solution. The nonprofit’s portal enables medical teams globally to upload and create personalized smiling face stickers, which helps both the doctor and patient alike. Doctors, nurses, and any other staff in the ward can walk around with photos of themselves smiling, easily visible to those around them. This helps medical staff members identify who is who much more effectively – vital information at a time when crucial decisions are made quickly and often.
But more significantly, it lets the patient see his/her doctor which instantly helps them build a rapport. This connection humanizes the relationship between them and the doctor. It’s a small, but powerful initiative, patients find it easier to confide in someone with whom they connect a face, a smiley image reminding them that there is an actual person behind that white suit.
As the pandemic rages on and challenges every institution across the globe, innovators will continue to respond to those challenges, facing off the virus’s spread with innovation and good will. Even in a time of crisis, it’s important to never forget the basics, and initiatives like Faces Behind Masks is only one example of this ideal.