How often does the chat you didn’t expect to have end up being the best conversation of your day?
It might be with a colleague you don’t often get a chance to talk to, the person from another team you never have quite enough time to sit down with, or someone you happen to bump into. Such unexpected conversations can spark ideas, open up new ways of thinking and help solve problems.
To encourage these conversations, Kaleidoscope Health and Care partnered with the Guardian Healthcare Professionals Network to send brown paper envelopes with £100 to five lucky recipients to spend on whatever they liked – as long as it was in the cause of having an unexpected conversation on the theme of health and care.
We startled a few finance departments, which sent incredulous emails enquiring what the envelope full of money was for. Coffees, lunches and train tickets were all options; we didn’t mind. All we asked was that winners spent the money within a month, had fun doing so and wrote us two 750-word blogs about the conversations.
To be in with a chance of receiving an envelope, we asked applicants to blog about their best unexpected conversation to date. We were blown away by the response. Entries came from as far away as Pakistan. Applicants from a variety of professions entered, including occupational therapists, policymakers, GPs and charity chief executives. The resulting blogs covered a host of topics, ranging from elderly care to US politics.
Did these conversations fulfil our aim? We think they did – or at least laid the foundations. Our project revealed that unexpected conversations can take place wherever you are, between people of all ages.
Becks Fisher’s unexpected conversation with a US pharmacist while on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton led her to think differently about our healthcare system – both how lucky we are to have it but also how fragile it is.
Rhiannon is a pharmacist unlike any I have encountered in the UK. She does dispense medications, and she can help people with weight management, self-limiting illness and flu shots, but that’s not what she spends most of her time doing … For her patients, a prescription isn’t the drugs they will take, it is a wish list of those they might take if they have means to do so.
More than one applicant chose to blog about care for older people. Charlotte Williams, chief of staff for UCLPartners Academic Health Science Partnership, described a conversation focused on thinking differently about how we consider elderly patients.
The best unexpected conversation I had was with a geriatrician I was working with a few years ago. She had the view that no older person she looked after was a single unit. She felt that the best physicians – or any member of the clinical team – knew to treat the unit, to ask as much about the accompanying support as the person … in the chair or on the trolley.
For occupational therapist Melissa Purkis and a nurse, the conversation considered innovative solutions to care.
We talked about the initiative in the Netherlands where residential and nursing homes are pairing up with colleges and universities to provide affordable living spaces for students, in return for the students interacting with the older people. In an age where the disparity between young and old is developing like a gaping chasm, and there are numerous reports about loneliness in both younger and older people, it surely makes sense to counter this.
We learned that an unexpected conversation between Kath Parsons and a Macmillan Cancer Support officer led to the establishment of the Older Peoples Advocacy Alliance, the only national organisation supporting independent advocacy for older people.
When the pair discussed a Macmillan report which found older people are often at a disadvantage when it comes to receiving cancer care, their conversation sparked an idea to recruit older people who have been affected by cancer to support their peers.
Peer advocates walk side by side with older people, providing whatever support is needed, from emotional support to housing, benefits or social care advice, treatment needs, and planning for end of life.
Prof Mah Muneer Khan learned that children can be unexpectedly knowledgeable about hand hygiene, which is promising in a world where there are more than 1.4m cases of healthcare-associated infections at any given time.
Our “Unexpected Fellows” have since had more conversations and blogged the results. We hope they inspire you to think about how you can get more of the unexpected into your everyday.
Anna Howells is founder of Kaleidoscope Health & Care
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