Did you hear the one about the patient who tells his doctor that he broke his leg in two places? The doctor tells him, “Well, then, stay out of those places.”
Hopefully, the humor you share with your doctor isn’t as groan-inducing as this old chestnut. Turns out, though, encounters between physicians and their patients often contain a few humorous moments. And that might be good for your health.
A study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, the University of Florida and other institutions examined a group of clinician/patient interactions and found that about 60% of them involved elements of humor. Most often, the humor focused on the patient’s medical condition. Pets and spouses often served as targets, too.
The study noted that humor can help us navigate difficult topics and bridge the gap between a patient and clinician. It can reduce anxiety and invite warmth, the study said, in what otherwise might be a stilted interaction.
And it may decrease a power imbalance between a doctor and a patient, making the patient less reluctant to ask questions about their care.
In more than 100 encounters that the scientists studied, humor wasn’t necessarily hilarious slapstick. Instead, it often included a few light words, as when one patient with elevated blood pressure told a doctor, “Oh, that must be because of you.”
The researchers found humor was introduced about equally between patient and clinician. The study warns it is difficult to draw concrete conclusions about the use of humor in a medical setting.
But if sharing a light moment with your doctor makes it easier to discuss a difficult health topic, humor might be the best medicine after all.