Laughter + Medicine

laughter-is-the-best-medicine-originalBlog post by Colin Hung

Last week’s #hcldr chat on Emotional Support For Patients, Families and Clinicians After An Adverse Event featured special guests Linda K Kenney (@lindakkenney) and Winnie Tobin (@wntobin). Both are from the MITSS organization out of Boston which helps healthcare providers implement programs to help people after an error has occurred.

The chat on June 10th was one of our most popular – with over 1600 tweets and 11 Million impressions during the hour. A full transcript is available via our friends at Symplur in case you missed it. Also, there are two Storify summaries of the chat: one for the interesting tweets and another full of resources that were shared.

Over the past several weeks the #hcldr community has been exploring very interesting and controversial topics. We have talked about philanthropy, adverse events, women & medicine, aging & epatients, care at home and patient advocacy. All of these have yielded amazing tweets and insights. Given how “heavy” all these topics have been, I thought this week we’d go with a much lighter topic, one that I hope will bring a smile to your face – laughter + medicine.

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter has many benefits:

  • Organ stimulation – heart, lungs, muscles and your brain
  • Stress and tension relief
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Relieves pain
  • Improves mood

Want proof? A recent study at California’s Loma Linda University compared two groups of older adults (in the 60s and 70s). The stress levels and short-term memory of both groups were measured. One group was asked to sit silently with no interaction whatsoever. The other group watched funny videos. The “humor group” had significantly higher recall results 43.6% vs 20.3% plus they has “considerably lower levels of cortisol” – the stress hormone. Yagana Shah wrote a nice summary of the study on Huffington Post. You can read more about the study here.

Does laughter work in the real-world? In a post by Laurie Wertich “A spoonful of Laughter Helps the Medicine Go Down” she tells the story of Susan Kobayashi who was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer.

Susan created a group that she called her “chemo buddies”—women who took turns accompanying her to chemotherapy treatments. She had rules for the group, instructing her friends to dress up and be cheerful. They sat in the chemo suite for hours, playing games, laughing, and distracting Susan from the task at hand. “If I’m going to be doing something, I might as well be happy,” Susan says.

But Susan didn’t stop at ensuring her own happiness; she worked passionately to spread the joy of humor to all patients at the Queen’s Medical Center during her treatment. She played jokes on her nurses, once pulling back the sheet to reveal her feet cloaked in dinosaur boots and joking, “Look, you told me there would be side effects, but I’m turning green. We might have a lawsuit on our hands.”

When she saw how dismal the hospital environment could be, Susan donated money for 12 DVD players and thousands of dollars worth of funny movies. She wanted to spread humor to other patients who needed it. Her sense of humor was contagious; often other patients would overhear the laughter coming from Susan’s group and ask if they could join.

While conducting research for this blog, I was pleasantly surprised to learn of three organizations who are actively promoting laughter as a form of therapy:

  1. Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor
  2. Rx Laughter
  3. Comedy Cures

There is an excellent summary of the 2012 Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor annual conference by Wired Magazine. It was the organization’s 25th conference and was sponsored by the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Not surprisingly CTCA has one of the best definitions of Laughter Therapy on their website.

#HCLDR friend and past guest Don S. Dizon MD posted an article a year ago that described a rather humorous series of interactions with a cancer patient that brought the care team closer together. The key point of his post is how laughter can help humanize the patient to the care team and the care team to the patient.

But we can do more, especially for patients we have known for a long time. Sharing a joke, an anecdote, and a laugh are as human as holding one’s hand. In addition, as this small paper reminded me, at times, laughter can also be the best medicine.

– Don S. Dizon, MD

Join us Tuesday June 17th at 8:30pm Eastern (for your local time click here) for the weekly #hcldr chat where we will be discussing:

  • T1: Have you ever shared a laugh with a doctor, nurse, patient during care? Effect?
  • T2: Is there a right time and wrong time for injecting humor in healthcare?
  • T3: What can we do as leaders to de-stress/add laughter to our daily routines?
  • CT: One thing you learned tonight that you can take back & use to help a patient or your organization tomorrow?


“Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke” Mayo Clinic,, accessed June 13 2014

“New Study Proves That Laughter Really Is the Best Medicine”, Yagana Shah, Huffington Post, April 22 2014,, accessed June 13 2014

“The effect of humor on short-term memory in older adults: a new component for whole-person wellness”, Bains GS et al, Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, April 2014,, accessed June 13 2014

“A spoonful of Laughter Helps the Medicine Go Down”, Laurie Wertich, A Woman’s Health,, accessed June 13 2014

“At Therapeutic Humor Conference, Laughter Medicine Is Serious Business”, Joel Warner and Peter McGraw, May 2 2012, Wired Magazine,, accessed June 13 2014

“Laughter Therapy” Cancer Treatment Centers of America,, accessed June 13 2014

“When it comes to cancer, laughter and humor can humanize”, Don S. Dizon MD,, June 6 2013,, accessed June 13 2014

“It’s ok to laugh after a procedure”, Susan D Klugman MD,, March 31 2014,, accessed June 13 2014

“(Women’s) Laughter Is the Best Medicine”, Cristen Conger,, May 26 2014,, accessed June 13 2014

Image Credit

One comment

  1. Reblogged this on my chronic life journey and commented:
    Laughter is definitely part of my health regime.

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