Dr. Baxter, founder of Buzzy
With the flu season almost upon us, your kids will be getting yet another shot. If yours squirm at the thought of a shot, you are not alone. However, typically it’s expected that parents just comfort their kids and help them tolerate the sting. Now there is a new product on the market that can help ease the pain from the shot. It’s called Buzzy and was invented by a pediatrician, Dr. Amy Baxter, who saw a need through personal experience. Buzzy’s coolness and vibration relieve the pain, similar to how you would rub a knee after you fall. Plus, there are many extensions of the product, such as the bee-stractors, that help with pain relief. You can buy this product online (see below) or ask your pediatrician to get one. This product is especially beneficial for kids that require continuous injections or IVs. A great product is one that meets a significant need, and I think Buzzy fits a very important need. Noone wants to see kids suffer, and if there is a product that can help with the pain relief, parents and doctors everywhere will welcome it. Thanks to Dr. Baxter and her team for developing this important idea. This week I asked this mom entrepreneur a few questions on how she came up with Buzzy and how she keeps it going.
Please tell us how you first thought of Buzzy. What led you to it?
I am a pediatric emergency doctor mom of three who went from doing child abuse research to pain management research after my son had a bad vaccine experience. I got tired of watching nurses and doctors fail to manage needle pain because they were too busy or didn’t think it mattered, and invented a natural solution for patients and parents to bring with them or use at home if they get diagnosed with diabetes, leukemia, or other frequent-shot diseases. It was mostly for my son Max, who had such a horrible shot experience he would throw up. I knew you could block pain using running water, as when you stick a burned finger under running water. I had intermittently tried to find a quick way to make needle pain better using the same methods. I was trying to reproduce the sensations that happen when you burn your hand and stick it under running water. The experiments included the whole family and got pretty messy! One day driving home from the hospital my alignment was off and the steering wheel numbed my hands. I was so excited, and tried vibration on the kids as soon as I got home. It didn’t really work, then my husband suggested a solution they used in Boy Scouts. Believe it or not, the first effective prototype involved a vibrating personal massage motor and frozen peas. Science, innovation, and healthy vegetables against pain!
Has pain management for kids been your medical focus? What are the biggest challenges and advances in this field?
I’ve always been opposed to unnecessary suffering in children, especially when the only reason not to intervene is expedience, indifference, or impatience for an adult. Healthcare workers can be so stoic about their patients’ pain. I realized that just knowing a practice could reduce pain wasn’t enough to change people’s behaviors if they didn’t believe pain mattered, so instead my first research project was to prove that using pain control improved success with spinal taps in infants. People won’t use pain control for the patient, but if it makes their success better or saves time, they will.
The past five years have really brought academic and public attention to the importance of pain management, particularly needle pain. Children now get more than 20 vaccines by the time they’re two. When you look at what immunizations people who selectively vaccinate choose to take, it’s the oral ones! They may say it’s concern for immunologic load, or concern over harm from the vaccine itself, but the fact is that oral vaccines carry just as much risk, yet they aren’t refused much at all. No one talks about pain with immunization, but it is an underlying factor in failure to vaccinate and the health of our country. More importantly, as these kids are growing up, no one knows what impact needle phobia will have on their future compliance with health care. We know that 30% of kids and 10% of adults are severely needle phobic. This is a huge deal – these adults don’t contribute to the blood supply, don’t get diagnoses of curable diseases in time, and don’t vaccinate their own kids. So, the challenge is the indifference of the 90% of people who aren’t needle phobic and feel like everyone else is making a big deal out of a little thing. The advances are that we have many options now, including Buzzy, that cost almost nothing per shot and can be obtained over the counter.
How long did it take you to get Buzzy off the ground? What was it like getting a team together to work on this product? How did you approach the funding of this new business?
We started with a hand held massager and frozen peas on August 4, 2004. When we put the combination together at my home, I realized it was a huge deal and videotaped the event! Over the past 5 years my children helped test, build, and prototype Buzzy until we had a device that worked. They smashed cell phones, helped me use electric tape and elastic bands, and have served as my first and best advisors. After that we had help from a fantastic engineering undergraduate student who made my drawings three-dimensional, then the actual cute bee with frozen wings was designed by Formation Design Group in Atlanta, Georgia.
I can’t say enough good about Formation. They believed in the product and the concept and me when I was still soldering cell phone parts and taping them with yellow and black electric tape. The real reason we’re a success, though, is because of a National Institutes of Health Small Business Innovation in Research Grant. The SBIR program is fantastic for small businesses. The biggest challenge was learning to navigate the system, but everyone has been so helpful. We got more than $1 million dollars to research Buzzy’s effectiveness for children’s immunizations from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development institute, and are in the final data collection stage.
What changes have you made to Buzzy over the years and why?
We keep trying to make Buzzy smaller and stronger. Part of our NIH grant is to design a better Buzzy.
Kids need choices, so we added a line of BuzzDudes stickers to let them personalize Buzzy or make him a rock star instead of a bee. Pain relief is also better with distraction, so I invented a series of hunt and find cards called bee-stractors that nurses or parents can use to pull attention away from a procedure. My kids use the Bee-Stractors for splinters! I made a slot in Buzzy’s tummy that can hold a card, so a parent can read questions on the back while the child searches. “Which two monkeys are exactly the same?”
What are the most effective marketing channels for you?
We’re still exploring. My initial premise (borne out from both experience and a 2007 article by Anna Tadio in Pediatrics) is that pediatricians don’t care that much about pain control. Only 6% use any kind of pain management for office shots, so I made Buzzy in order for parents to have a way to take pain control into their own hands. The hard thing is, parents are used to abdicating control when it comes to pain. We’ll make parent-teacher conference after conference if a child is having academic issues, but when most people come in contact with a nurse who refuses to use pain control, we say “Ok”. Buzzy was in Women’s Day in September as one of “four things you didn’t know about vaccines”, but sales didn’t increase much. I imagine people showed the article to their doctors and said “why don’t you do this?” rather than spending the $35 themselves. Personal pain control is a paradigm shift.
That said, Children’s Hospitals are accredited in part by having a pain plan, and about half of our business has come from hospitals and pain teams. Some have come from pediatric offices, too, and since we haven’t advertised they must have found us because they’ve been proactive about pain control. (Maybe they’re the 6%…)
Our pilot and our first pediatric randomized controlled trial were for IV sticks, which is more in the territory of healthcare systems. Our biggest customers right now are hospitals and Child Life Professionals. Healthcare professionals in over 100 hospitals are using Buzzy; since I know the academic hospital world, we started by going to trade shows at the American Academy of Pediatrics and Emergency Nurses Association. Last year was our first year, and we had a lot of curiosity. Now people have used Buzzy and the Bee-Stractors, and we’re getting orders from new hospitals every week.
We hope to be able to spread the word to individuals, because the best part of Buzzy is that it puts hospital-strength pain relief in your hands. Many of our daily home-use customers have found us from features in Arthritis magazines or Diabetes Self-Care. However, when we polled our home customers, we found that most of the Buzzy use at home is for boo-boos. Then we went, “Duh!” Hospitals are using cuteness and distraction while homes are using impersonal first aid equipment with nothing at all for pain. Buzzy and Bee-Stractors decrease the drama at home, whether it’s cleaning scrapes or taking insulin or every-other day methotrexate.
Is there a particular seasonality to when the product is more in demand?
I think flu season and sting/splinter seasons will end up being our biggest seasons, but online demand keeps going up steadily every month; it’s hard to tell. Our best months so far have been at the conferences, doctors and nurses and Child Life professionals buy them like crazy.
You must be great at time management handling your job, the company and kids. What’s your schedule like? Any time-management tips for other moms?
I don’t think anyone really busy ever things they’re good at time management; life and schedules are constantly being re balanced. Since I’m a practicing pediatric emergency doctor as well as entrepreneur/researcher, my schedule is hard to tame. Now that I have the grant, I work fewer emergency and sedation shifts a month, but I still advise my research division, work with fellows on their projects, and try to get publications out. I love teaching, and have been really fortunate in that I get asked to speak at national scientific forums, so I spend a lot of time about half the year reviewing new studies and trying to make really good talks. The upside is every so often I get invited to cool places, like Saudi Arabia or Australia! The downside is that I don’t have nearly as much time for my family. I haven’t seen a movie with my husband for three years. If Buzzy doesn’t take off and help a lot of people, and allow me to have a bit more free time when the kids are teenagers, I’ve sacrificed a few years of time with my children that I can’t get back. The very hardest is working from home when I don’t have a sitter but expected one: I’m edgy about the goals for the day I need to get done, irritable because the kids want time with me and I’ve got STUFF TO DO, and sad because even when I try to be in the moment and enjoy the time with them I can’t put myself in that mental frame.
My tips? Delegate better than I do, make blocks of uninterrupted time better than I do, do the hardest things first, say no more often than I do, and kiss pleasure reading and being as in shape as your friends goodbye for a period of time.
If I asked your kids, how would they describe you? What kind of mom are you?
Ooh, I’m going to ask them tonight! I’m firm but fun, and I’m well acknowledged as the best tucker-inner. Fortunately, I have really great kids. A friend recently met them and said, “they’re ALL Pippi Longstocking!” It’s true – each one is zany and fascinating and fully passionate about their own things. As a parent, I want to raise inquisitive, compassionate children who are well-behaved and not entitled. I believe they all feel that they are the most important part of my life, and even when I don’t have much time I think it’s all about making the memories. We have cards at the dinner table with family questions, and we discuss everything from the family we’d most like to be stranded on a desert island with to the coziest place in the house. When they think about family time, I think they’ll remember that sort of thing becasue it’s unique, but won’t remember how much I was travelling. Besides, whenever I can I take them with me. They’re going to ENA and AAP this fall, and negotiations are on about Australia.
What are some lessons you’ve learned working on this business/product? Please share some of your learnings with our readers.
Stick to your main product. Don’t give up. Go to market with 85% of your ‘dream product’, the important thing is to get it out there and learn and improve from there. Overdeliver, underpromise. Get contracts in place. Stay in close contact with your main customers for feedback. Donate from the beginning!
Where can our visitors buy Buzzy?
Buzzy4shots.com , or more specifically buzzy4shots.com and go to store.
For clinics to fax a purchase order, 404 963 5075