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Funny Medicine?

According to a recent article in Inc. magazine, more companies are “overcoming the fun deficit” by making fun a core company value. These organizations take fun far beyond the annual holiday party and summer barbecue, offering perks like on-site spa services, doggy day care and nap rooms. Such companies’ chief executive officers encourage laughter and often welcome pranks and practical jokes, claiming that a culture of fun correlates to happy employees, loyal customers and a thriving business.

A big fan of fun, I was intrigued by this story. I wondered: Is there a place for fun in healthcare? I informally surveyed 10 hospitals, asking the question, “Does your hospital attempt to cultivate an atmosphere of fun through regular ongoing events or services?” Aside from one terse, “No, we have nothing like that,” most hospitals say they encourage fun, but it’s usually through once-a-year events or a patient-safety fair—not exactly a week in Las Vegas.

Some hospitals have formed entertainment committees devoted to cultivating cheer on an ongoing basis. OSF HealthCare in Illinois, for example, takes fun so seriously that its Employee Activity Committee has a mission statement: To promote fun and fellowship in the workplace and beyond. What’s more fun than a mission statement? The hospitals with which I spoke see a place for frivolity, but often that place is outside hospital walls in cruises, water parks or Broadway shows—places where patient care won’t be threatened. This is not to say individual units and departments aren’t having fun, it’s just not company-sponsored—and it’s usually restricted to nonclinical areas.

One hospital, Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, seems to have successfully intertwined entertainment with patient safety. Rather than restrict fun to specific areas, hospital leaders have created alternative forms of fun that allow everyone to join in. Monthly “Feel Good Fridays,” for example, have different themes; in October, units decorate for Halloween, being careful to follow specific patient safety guidelines where necessary. On Jeans Day, clinical staff who can’t wear denim don T-shirts depicting jeans.

Healthcare is a serious business—it is, after all, life and death. But perhaps more than in any other industry, that serious environment needs a healthy dose of humor. The trick is finding a balance between entertainment and risk. Fun can bring liability in any industry. But, according to the companies in Inc. and hospitals like Sinai, the business benefits of the occasional belly laugh far outweigh the dangers.

—Molly Rowe