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PALM LATITUDES

Solutions

March 01, 1992|Kathleen Doheny | EDITED BY MARY McNAMARA

Reader's Digest has known for years that "Laughter is the Best Medicine," and Jan Marshall thinks it's about time the health-care industry caught on. Marshall, a Los Angeles humor consultant who advises hospitals and other businesses about integrating laughter into everyday operations, says every hospital needs a humor room. She's negotiating with administrators at four progressive hospitals in hopes of setting up a prototype in Southern California. "I want doctors to write a prescription," says Marshall: " 'Thirty minutes in the humor room, please.' "

Humor rooms began appearing in a handful of hospitals about a decade ago and now are in place in about 100 nationwide; at Harbor/UCLA Medical Center, patients can watch cartoon videos in a special room, and at St. John's in Santa Monica, the Comedy Channel brings free comedy films directly to patients' rooms. But Marshall's dream humor room would be big enough to accommodate a stage, where comics could strut their stuff--a Comedy Clinic motif. When Seinfeld or Leno aren't available, patients could watch comedies on big-screen television, listen to tapes or pluck a Dave Barry collection from the shelves. So far, she hasn't persuaded any of the hospitals she's approached to fork over the $350,000 she estimates is needed to stock the room, hire talent and provide ongoing consultation. The fee may sound steep in these recessionary times, but Marshall points out that it's far less than the price tag on some medical equipment--and says that jokes can have a longer-lasting positive effect than some state-of-the-art treatments. "The sooner you can add the perspective humor gives you," she says, "the quicker healing begins."

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