In response to last months column when I used the analogy of the runaway shopping cart to highlight opportunities to use mindfulness to manage stress during the holiday season, a friend informed me that the first thing he would do was figure out where the shopping cart came from and send it flying back in that direction.
OK, not exactly the response I expected, but as the devious grin emerged on his face, I thought the notion did underscore the power of being proactive and Newtons Third Law of Motion, which says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As we sipped coffee and our smiles turned to cackles, I also was reminded to never underestimate the power of a good laugh.
So where does humor fit into how we measure outcomes of health care? Thinking back to my own experience, laughing has always been part of how I heal. For instance, when I had surgery in high school, the thing I remember most was reading The Far Side by Gary Larson and cracking up almost literally, while my staples flexed as waves of belly laughs pressed outward. Perhaps Ive underestimated the healing quality of that comic book all these years.
As a nation, I think we place great value on humor and laughter from an entertainment perspective but perhaps not as much from a health-care perspective. Maybe we take it for granted that laughter just happens because humor is so often readily available. We have lots of comedy-specific networks and websites, after all.
So where and how does humor show up in health care? Is it intentionally provided? Or are we just fortunate to have providers who have a lighthearted bedside manner or witty receptionists who banter with us when we check in? I would say yes, we are fortunate, and Id also say that maybe we can expand upon this idea.
Perhaps one of our outcome measurements can be how frequently we laugh. Of course, our individual baseline data would be taken into account as a starting point. Perhaps this measurement could be woven throughout integrated health care from depression-care management to orthopedic surgery.
As a case study, I offer my anonymous friend mentioned earlier in the column. Last week, he had surgery. By all accounts, his post-op experience was filled with wisecracks and jokes with the nursing staff. A few short days later, he was discharged home, where friends continued to provide humor-infused aftercare. Im not a doctor, but Id say hes doing great. Hes certainly not backsliding.
Which brings me to fighting with my cliché-resistant, self-editing mind to even type it but what if laughter is the best medicine? Of course, skilled providers, pharmaceuticals, nutrition and prevention all are critical to providing quality care. Perhaps it cant be the magic antidote, but I think humor has earned some consideration in how we measure outcomes of health care.
I would like to hear your thoughts contact me any time.
Mark White is the director of quality for Axis Health System. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 335-2217.