Halo Caps – the person behind the mask (visor, gown, gloves and loupes)

halo capsLouisa Clarke explains how, along with her sister Johanna, they came up with a solution to personalising PPE – Halo Caps.

It was a short conversation with my sister, Johanna, during lockdown when practices were shut and dental tools were downed, that resulted in us setting up our own company, Halo Caps.

Our conversation helped us to identify potential solutions to emerging problems with personal protective equipment (PPE). How can we reassure our patient base that we are the same caring professionals underneath the enhanced PPE? Is there a way to do this without contributing to further plastic, clinical waste in the process?

We decided to produce personalised, washable scrub caps for healthcare and beauty professionals. Something totally new for both of us, which has proved challenging but extremely rewarding!

The problem #1 – recognition

I am extremely fortunate to work in dentistry for almost 30 years now. Johanna’s background is in psychology, working with vulnerable adults. Both roles require a certain level of PPE to ensure ourselves and our clients stay safe. Especially during a global pandemic!

I can only imagine how my patients see and perceive my new attire. And I have every empathy for my most nervous patients in these times.

It’s understandable, and also a little heart-breaking, to have some patients not immediately recognise me. Despite seeing them every three months for the last five years.

Gone are the days of the friendly smiles when I collect them from the waiting room. No more handshakes or hugs when discussing personal celebrations or tragedies (anyone who knows me, knows I’m a hugger, for which I’ll never be sorry!).

It is not easy speaking behind the thicker masks and clearly hearing what I’m saying is difficult for some. Obviously, non-verbal communication is completely compromised!

From the many posts I see on social media pages, dressed in full PPE, relaying reassurance to their patient base, I know I am not alone in feeling this way.

Like so many, I found the photos and video clips of medical teams, treating patients on the COVID wards, a true inspiration for many reasons. However, it was the pictures of doctors and nurses, in full PPE, with their names and job titles, crudely written on plastic aprons with a Sharpie pen, that really got me thinking.

It became apparent they had also recognised how their patients, patient’s families and other colleagues, must feel not knowing who was behind the PPE.

To add to the difficulty, the usual name badges and lanyards are no longer appropriate due to cross infection control issues.

Could we find a more suitable clinical solution to aid recognition of caregivers?

The Halo Caps solution

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to add a scrub cap to my clinical uniform.

I had just trained in air-polishing techniques. Although I had excellent nursing support with high volume suction, I was a little perturbed by the amount of splatter on my visor. What exactly was going into my hair too? I dreaded to think!

Being a busy working Mum, it isn’t so easy for me to shower and ‘decontaminate’ as soon as I get home.

My reality is to leave work, usually in a manic hurry, phone ringing, emails pinging and start my second job as ‘Mum’s taxi’! Picking up my children from school, the childminder, Scouts or the park.

I often also need to whizz to the supermarket before preparing the evening meal for the ‘starving’ kids. Before loading the washing machine, walking the dog or tackling the ironing.

Scrub caps were the perfect solution for me!

At the time I didn’t know any dental professionals who wore them on a daily basis. I certainly hadn’t been advised to wear one at dental school during my training.

I was also unsure what reaction I would get from my colleagues and patients if I wore one. Were they status symbols only worn by distinguished surgeons?

Furthermore, I had always considered caps as a one-way necessity for patient protection. But now I see this is a two-way street!

Rest assured; I shouldn’t have worried. Thankfully, everyone was very complimentary about my new attire!

Our ‘eureka’ moment

Having considered the medics recognition problem further, and my own preference for donning a scrub cap it occurred to me that both these issues could be addressed in one simple solution.

Personalised scrub caps, stating the clinician’s name and role. Easily identifiable to all.

First time patients, nervous patients and patients with difficulties retaining information also have the visual aid of the clinician’s name for the duration of the entire appointment.

Problem #2 – single-use plastics

At my time of searching for suitable caps, the results would really disappoint me, to say the least.

I wrongly hoped there would be a plethora of styles, colours and price tags to choose from on the UK market. How wrong I was!

Single use, disposable caps, that look like rather unattractive transparent shower caps, were widely available. However, I knew I wanted washable, reusable caps…this limited my choice further!

Reluctantly, I eventually settled on a few caps, flown in all the way from Brazil. Also incurring expensive custom charges and having a further environmental impact.

I felt like I was in an impossible predicament; I needed effective PPE, yet I always retain a conscious awareness of the additional environmental damage cost.

Obviously, I am aware there is currently a limit in the choice of materials when manufacturing PPE. I know that to safely engage with my patients and protect myself, I have little alternative but to use disposable, single-use items for each appointment.

As soon as a more sustainable, eco-friendly, material and/or production process becomes available, or replaced with equivalent non-disposable, sterilisable items, I will not hesitate to replenish my PPE supplies.

Halo Caps solution #2

It was with this in mind that the idea of washable, reusable scrub caps made further sense. Eliminating the use of plastic disposable  caps.

Design

During the design process, we took the opportunity to look at improving the ‘Brazilian’ hats.

We chose a lightweight, stretch material that remains cool and comfortable during the whole clinical session. We also opted for a ‘one-size-fits-all’ cap that users can easily adjust with elastic and ties at the back for a comfortable, personal fit.

Another big consideration for us was the safe transportation of a contaminated cap after use. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve witnessed a used cap shoved into a pocket or handbag!

It was logical to us that each cap should come with its own washable scrub bag. So users wouldn’t need to touch the cap again after use.

Both cap and bag can go straight into the washing machine. Avoiding cross contamination and easily dried for a quick turnaround.

Other benefits

In the beginning (a whole six weeks ago!) it was never our intention to dabble into other areas of business. And certainly not marketing or advertising. What do we know?

However, during the whole process of starting a new business, we have realised the importance of branding and the benefit of instant logo recognition. Some of the larger dental brands approach us for this purpose alone!

In my experience, most dental practices are continually looking for ways to reinforce their brand. The personalised, washable scrub cap may become a fantastic novel way to achieve this. Along with the other benefits they provide!


For more information visit halocaps.co.uk.

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