Building Better Relationships Among Patients and Health Professionals [transcript][audio]

Guest: Dr. Catherine Crock

Presenter: Henry Acosta

Guest Bio: Dr. Catherine Crock is a physician at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. She is the founder and is a chair member at the Hush Foundation. Her passion for caring and sharing kindness to everyone has lead her to pursuing practices not just in the medical world. She’s worked as a producer of music and theatrics to help spread a simple message which is “be kind to one another”. She looks to change the culture in the medical industry and hospital environment with music and theatrics, one day at a time.

Segment Overview: In this interview, Dr. Crock talks about how she founded the Hush Foundation. She discusses the concerning culture growing in the medical industry the past few years where the patients and health professionals don’t communicate properly and never see eye to eye. She looks to change that by spreading a positive message through her work with Australia’s finest musical talent and playwrights.

Henry Acosta: Thanks for listening and this is Health Professional Radio. I’m Henry Acosta, the host for today. Our guest today is Dr. Catherine Crock. She is a medical pioneer, producer of music and theatrics, humanitarian, mother and advocate for change. She is also the Chair and Founder of the Hush Foundation. Today, she’s joining us to talk about the current system or the current culture in the healthcare industry and a little bit about the Hush Foundation. So with all that said, thank you so much for coming in the show Dr. Crock. It’s a pleasure having you on.

Dr. Catherine Crock: Thank you very much Henry. It’s great to be here.

H: I know you’ve been a guest before on the show but to all our listeners who aren’t really familiar with you, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

C: Well Henry, I started work as a doctor at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne in 1994 and my job at the time was to do bone marrow and lumbar puncture tests on children with leukemia and other life-threatening illnesses. And I had young children at the time and I pretty quickly realized that there was a lot of distress and anxiety went around children having medical procedures. So I did something a little bit unusual back in those days when we weren’t even really talking about patient-centered care. I sat down with a group of families and I asked them to talk me through their experience when they had a sick child and what would the touchpoints, what were the parts of that journey that we could improve for them and their families. And straight up they said, “Look, the pain management is really difficult for us and we feel like there might be a better way to do it.”. The anaesthetic team at the Royal Children’s were fantastic. They had actually no idea, all the procedures that went on in treatment rooms and wards around the hospital. They only saw what went on in theatre. So once we brought them into the equation and their expertise in pain management, we quite quickly could improve how we did the procedures. So these days, all the children pretty much go to sleep with a very light anesthetic and we can do all we’re paying for procedures in 15 or 20 minutes.

H: That’s a very touching story and it’s great that you show a lot of care with the parents and the children. I mean the relationship is probably very important for you guys.

C: Look, it was really amazing for the staff to hear direct from the patients and families how we could help to improve things. And in fact, the beginning of the Hush Foundation was back in those days when the parents said, “We find even coming into hospital, the whole environment of a hospital is very challenging when you’re vulnerable and you’re scared and either your child or a loved one is not well. What about from music?”. So we started bringing composers and musicians into the hospital space and they could reflect with their expertise in music and sound. What they could do to really help us to improve that environment and they would often stand in the corner of the room going, “Oh my goodness, the noise, the cacophony of noise in a hospital environment is something that’s not very soothing and calming for the families, also not very soothing for staff who work there.” So these composers have been able to write exactly the sort of music that sits there in the background for us and just makes everybody feel more calm.

H: Wow. Is that how the Hush Foundation came to be?

C: Yes. So that was the start of the Hush Foundation which was professional musicians who at the time were teaching my own children. So what I love to do is bring different expertise into a situation to help us solve the problem. I’m always thinking, “Oh look, I don’t know how we could do this better, but I’m certain that the composers would not because they understand sound environment.”. And after we’ve got the Hush Foundation started and we were now producing different albums of music every year and we’ve done 16 different albums over the last 18 years, I then was lucky enough to travel on a Churchill Fellowship to the U.S. and the UK and I looked at patient centered care and I looked at patient safety and how the two things went together. And as you were saying at the very intro, it struck me that there are some problems in healthcare culture that are meaning we can’t be as patient centered as we want to be and our staff are not always as happy and engaged as they can be in their work. And in fact, the patient safety experts in the U.S. said to me, the next big challenge for patient safety around the world is how staff treat each other.

H: Do you have any ideas or have you ever proposed any new ideas on how to improve the culture in the healthcare industry?

C: Well once again, I went to some other experts to sort of help on this and I connected with Alan Hopgood to do the playwright and I said to Alan, “Look, we’ve got these problems in the culture and we’ve got patient safety issues and poor communication between staff and then between staff and patients. Do you think you could write a play about it?”. And so I gave Alan a whole series of true stories about things that had happened in healthcare in different settings. And what he came up with was this beautiful 30 minute play called “Hear Me.”. The play is basically a true story of a medication error, but what happens in this story is the mother tries to speak up. She tries to say, “I think there’s something wrong. Can somebody please check? Can somebody do something?”. And you watch the frustration of the mother who can’t get her message across to the staff. The audience is quite aware of why this is happening because another thing is showing you a junior doctor who’s been bullied and humiliated by her consultant and she writes the wrong medication but she doesn’t want to speak up about it because she’s got her job on the line. She needs a reference from this consultant. And I think a lot of us have been through that situation where if you’re not in a safe culture, you won’t speak up even if it’s to own up to a mistake.

H: And that sounds very toxic and I’m sure a lot of people get to relate to that since it’s really hard having loved ones in the hospital and communication isn’t very good with health professional, and the patients and their carers.

C: Exactly. And so what we’ve been doing with this play is taking it on to around the country. We’ve done a 140 performances now in hospitals around the country. We’ve also got a play on aged care. So we’ve been into some of the tricky issues in aged care both from the point of view of the residents and the carers but also the people doing the hard work looking after these people. And basically, both our plays are focusing on everybody who’s in touch with healthcare needs to feel looked after and cared for whether they’re the worker or the person getting the care. And so over the last two years what Hush has been doing is developing a culture where we’re talking about kindness in healthcare. So we can acknowledge that there’s some bad behavior and some bullying goes on among staff and patients are not always being listened to. But Henry, what if we had a kind health system and we’re all working together towards a kind health system. I actually think a lot of the communication problems and the bullying and disrespect that you sometimes see. I think that’ll drop away if the focus is on what’s the kind option in this interaction I’m having with you or with my other colleague. And so last year, at the end of last year, we had an event called the “Gathering of Kindness” and we had four and a half thousand people all across Australia talking about some of these issues of culture, and behavior and how kindness can be the antidote. And some people think, “Is this just soft and fluffy stuff?”. No actually, it can take courage to be kind Henry, if the people around you are not being kind or are behaving badly towards each other. And so what we found when we got people together to talk about kindness is it’s actually contagious, a bit like a virus if they can even see it on an MRI now is, “I do something kind to you, it lights up my brain and your brain.”. And the likelihood is that the next interaction you go on and have is more kind than unkind.

H: And I guess what we can take away from here is showing a little care and kindness can really go a long way with communicating.

C: Exactly. And if you do surveys of patient experience and what our patients and families want to get out of healthcare, they actually assume that we’ve got the technical and the medical sides of this right and that they are going to get good medical care. But what they mention is the small acts of kindness that made a difference when they were treated with respect and when we get complaints to our health services commissioners or to our hospitals, it is most likely about poor communication or not being treated with kindness and respect.

H: That’s an incredible work and I’m sure some of our listeners are interested in finding out if you guys are going to their city or to their area.

C: Look, we’ve developed a website, and we’ve put up there a whole lot of resources that people can just come and use and they can run their own “gathering of kindness.” So ideas up there are things like you can run a small kindness cafe in your hospital. Even in the tea room, you can do something and just start some conversations. We’ve got a whole series of beautiful little video clips of topics like, “Are We Too Busy to be Kind?”. You could play this two-minute video clip and then have a talk amongst your team. So we’re trying to make it easy for people to make this kindness movement just grow and flourish. So if anyone wants to get in touch, they can get in touch through the website.

H: And about the playwright that you have, are you going on tour?

C: We are still on tour the whole time. So we’ve got the first play about “Patient Safety”, we’ve got a play about “Aged Care” and we’ve now got a play specifically around the whole kindness agenda and that play is called, “What Matters.”. People can get in touch again through the website and we can come to your area and do the play.

H: Awesome. For those interested is talking to you Dr. Catherine, can you give us a quick email address so people can try reaching out to you?

C: Yes. The best address is going to be

H: Awesome. Before we end the interview, can you tell us or leave us a takeaway message for all our listeners who are listening today?

C: My message would be treat other people the way they would like to be treated. So before you think, “I’m going to go and do something kind for somebody,” check in with them, “What’s kind to that other person that you’re about to communicate with?”. Once you’ve worked that out, you’ll be fine.

H: Awesome. Thank you so much. It’s been incredible having you as a guest on the show and I appreciate the time Dr. Catherine.

C: Thank you very much Henry. Lovely talking to you.

H: And that was Dr. Catherine Crock. She is a medical pioneer, producer of music and theatrics, humanitarian, mother and advocate for change. She’s also a physician at the Royal Children’s Hospital at Melbourne and she is the Chair and Founder of the Hush Foundation. If you’re interested in learning more about her, please visit their website at And if you liked this interview, please visit us at I’m Henry Acosta and this is Health Professional Radio.

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