From Dad Jokes to Coping Mechanisms: The Role of Humor in Healthcare

By Alex Flores –

Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) are often thought of as serious, stoic people who are so focused on their patients and demands of the job that we too often forget – they’re just like everyone else. They get frustrated by traffic, binge watch TV shows, and can exhibit a wicked sense of humor. In fact, there’s been research on this! Humor can be a valuable tool in healthcare settings not only for patients (a-la Patch Adams) but also between physicians and practice/hospital staff.

Doctor-to-Patient Humor

One study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that patients rated their healthcare providers as being more empathetic and having better communication skills when they used appropriate humor during their interactions. The study also found that the use of humor by healthcare providers led to a more positive patient experience overall.

Another study published in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services found that humor can be an effective coping mechanism for healthcare providers who are exposed to high levels of stress in their work. The study found that using humor helped to reduce stress and improve job satisfaction among healthcare providers.

These findings suggest things we all already know – that HCPs are not automatons. They are people with their wholly different lives between their personal and professional lives, with interests, hobbies, and senses of humor. While their job may require them to be serious and focused on the task at hand, they are still imminently capable of making jokes, having fun, and being entertained by marketing and advertising.

It’s important to note that there is a time and a place for humor in healthcare, and that HCPs must always maintain a professional demeanor and never make inappropriate or offensive jokes. However, appropriate humor can be a valuable tool for HCPs to connect with their patients, relieve stress, and make their jobs more enjoyable.

In addition to the benefits of humor in healthcare interactions, healthcare marketers should also consider using humor in their outbound and advertising communications. HCPs are bombarded with messages and information on a daily basis, and breaking through the clutter can be a challenge. Using humor, judiciously, can be a very effective “way in” with HCPs.

Recent examples include Sanofi’s Buscopan campaign. Tied to London Fashion Week they used a fashion industry-inspired ad format to bring attention to IBS. 

And in “celebration” of Valentine’s Day, a global nonprofit World Vasectomy Day, teamed up with comedienne, Ilana Glazer, to share her line of greeting cards “Cards to Nards.

Doctor-to-Doctor Humor

A Matchstick Group client recently shared a story about an idea they had gotten from one of their customers. Saranas, makers of the Early Bird® Bleed Monitoring System, engages with their customers on a regular basis to speak with them about their needs, to solicit feedback to potentially incorporate into the next generation device, and to check on the general health of the account. A customer of theirs, a cardiologist, relayed this story regarding how he and his colleagues ask one another to bring them an Early Bird… they give each other “the bird.” Normally, giving someone the bird is a bad thing but at this hospital it’s a gesture becoming synonymous with patient safety.

Saving lives, taking care of patients, and doing their jobs. While these cardiologists are doing all of that, they’re also finding ways, like all of us do, to entertain themselves and their colleagues.

Will these story find its way into marketing the Early Bird? Into any of our advertising? Perhaps. Will it resonate with the target audience? It should. They made it up.

It’s Not All Fun & Games

At The Matchstick Group we take our work seriously and we’re in the business of helping our client’s position, brand, and communicate, their medical devices and services to their target audiences. We do this according to a tried-and-true process we’ve developed over the 12 years we’ve been in business. Our team’s skills run the gamut from the clinical to the professional and everything in between. If your product is complicated and there’s no room for funny business. We can help.

On the flip side, however, if your brand communications can benefit from a little humor – we can help with that too. Case in point: Why do nurses carry red pens? Just in case they need draw blood. 

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