Doctor, you told me I have a month to live and then you sent me a bill for $1,000! I can't pay that before the end of the month! OK, says the doctor, you have 6 months to live;)
Here's a question for you: What do you call a doctor who finishes last in his medical school class? Answer: Doctor.
Yes, the doctors will be here all week. And as these jokes show, so will jokes about doctors and the health care system.
But now those jokes are the subject of a new study from researchers at Dartmouth who are examining the potential use of social media for research on health and medicine.
The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, looked at the success of canned jokes about doctors (ones that have a punchline and don't need any other context to understand). The researchers combed through 33,000 Facebook users' content, with their permission, and identified users who posted jokes about doctor's visits or health care systems during a six-month period. They identified 156 jokes and gauged how popular they were in terms of Facebook likes and online laughs — LOL! Jokes where the doctor or health care system was the butt of the joke seemed to be more successful than other types of jokes, although not statistically significant.
A doctor says to a patient, "We've run every test we can think of and the results show you're out of money."
Matt Davis, of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and a researcher on the study, said one of the jokesters even seemed to be posting one-liners from a hospital bed.
"When you think about our health care system and even a visit to the doctor, it can be awkward and uncomfortable, people dealing with health issues are experiencing a range of emotions," said Davis. "Joking is a healthy way to deal with stress."
While Dartmouth said the jokes were by some standards "cheesy," they may have bigger implications for researchers.
"This is one of the first attempts to pull information from Facebook conversations and do something with it," said Davis. "It's trying to learn something from human behavior and being able to compare and contrast that behavior in the virtual space and connect that with real life."
In the middle of a busy waiting room at the doctor's office, a man rushes in and shouts, "Doctor! I think I'm shrinking." The doctor looks up and says calmly "Now just settle down. You'll have to be a little patient."
Susannah Fox, a researcher at the Pew Research Center with an emphasis on health, technology and social media, says she looks at what people are talking about online so she can ask better questions. The same could be helpful for health care.
"There is a parallel with clinicians and hospitals and other health care entities to listen to the online conversation, whether it is people sharing jokes, having praise for a certain institution or complaints," said Fox, citing a 2004 Pew study where they looked at political engagement based on campaign jokes. "These are vehicles for people to share opinion and to build community whether it's about politics or health care."
Davis said people seemed to be using Facebook to talk things out and even ask for a joke to lighten the mood or maybe show frustrations with their health care experiences.
A doctor comes back into the examination room where the patient is sitting quietly. He says "I'm really sorry but I have some bad news." The patient says "Oh my, what is it?" The doctor says "You have Tom Jones Disease." The patient asks "Is it rare?" The doctor replies "It's not unusual."