I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Baxter MD, CEO and founder of Pain Care Labs. After 20 years researching pain, she quit practicing emergency medicine to focus on reducing opioid use with pain relief devices. Her Buzzy needle pain device has blocked pain from over 31 million needle procedures, and DuoTherm Vibrating Back Relief launched 9/5 2018 at PainWeek. She’s a Top 40 Healthcare Transformer, WSJ “Idea Person”, GA Bio Most Innovative CEO, and is known for turning down Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank.
Why did you found your company?
I actually started the company to qualify for an NIH Small Business Innovative REsearch grant to research Buzzy.
When I realized how many kids were becoming afraid of needles, I discovered that combining ice and vibration could block the feeling of a shot, like running a burn under cold water makes the pain disappear.
I made a prototype for my own kids to use, but got increasingly distressed at how often we stuck kids without pain control in the emergency room because we were in a hurry.
To prove and FDA clear my little prototype, I needed academic research, and to get those NIH funds, I had to start a small business!
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
I am on a mission to eliminate unnecessary pain with reusable, affordable medical devices. That’s 3 disruptions right there — nobody intentionally makes reusable medical devices anymore!
My first device, Buzzy, which launched in 2009, blocks needle pain. Who would’ve believed that a vibrating ice bee has now blocked pain for over 30 million needle procedures and is used in over 5000 hospitals and clinics?
We’ve created a new category of pain relief.
In addition, my NIH-funded Buzzy research revealed WHY needle fear is soaring. I published these findings in the prestigious journal Vaccine in 2017, disrupting how booster vaccines are given worldwide.
When a colleague in opioid recovery used Buzzy to avoid narcotics during knee replacement physical therapy, I devoted my efforts full time to the business.
Our VibraCool line of joint pain relief is disrupting the athletes and injuries market: it’s the first ice/vibration therapy, and is under $100.
We’re launching the DuoTherm device at Pain Week — as a physician, I want to disrupt the Prescription for Pain model, proving that physical problems need physical solutions, pain is personal, and relief can be in anyone’s hands.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
Facebook has been a godsend to me, because of entrepreneur groups.
Leslie Pierson (GoodHangups), Romy Taormina (PsiBands), Matt Alexander, and Julie Goldman (Original Runners) and Howie Busch (DudeRobes) were all on Shark Tank, and have mentored me through that online group of tank survivors!
How are you going to shake things up next?
As I’ve delved deeper into the pain relief world, I’ve been stunned at how few pain physicians read the literature on non-pharmacologic options. Many have told me they’re not interested because their patients aren’t.
However, when I talk to GPs and internists, they are desperately searching for pain options for patients. As a pediatrician, my focus is to prevent addiction by changing the way physicians and patients approach pain. Buzzy is part of this — kids learn they don’t need a cream or a pill to take control of what hurts.
Our message is that pain is personal; to empower patients to trust and try options to take control over pain, we need to GIVE them those options, and endorse therapies proven more effective than pharma.
DuoTherm is the first and only device combining FIVE scientifically proven pain relief modalities for the low back: thermotherapy, cryotherapy, low frequency vibration, high frequency vibration, and accupressure/myofascial trigger point pressure.
In addition, I’ve created three therapy cycles of alternating vibration patterns based on the literature and patients with back pain. If you count reducing catastrophizing by empowering patients, it’s SIX.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Never be too influenced by any one day — that’s from my dad, and it helps brace you against the ups and downs of business. I was camping with my family and trying to negotiate for 20 inner tubes for our group when I got a call from the FDA. I’ll never forget the surreality of advocating for extra indications for Buzzy with towers of giant orange and yellow fruit loops all around me. That was a hard day… but it all worked out. And it would have worked out better if I’d taken the long view and gone back to enjoying our vacation.
Sow good seeds — also my dad. Whenever possible, try to help people out or leave them with a good feeling. That said, another is from Robert A. Heinlein — “Stand up and be counted. You may sometimes be wrong, but if you don’t take a stand, you will never be right.”
Anger is fear in drag — Spider Robinson. When people get furious because their Buzzy didn’t arrive, or want us to replace a VibraCool because their dog ate it after the postman delivered it, try not to get upset. They’re usually angry because they’re afraid. Try to reduce fear, and it untangles a lot more.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?
The Power of Positive Deviance — basically, look at people that are beating the odds, and focus on understanding WHY their successful, even if they may not know themselves.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Sarah Silverman demonstrates great examples of sowing good seeds, helping to uncover the fear in drag to help people who are hurting, and is such an incredibly deep thinker. Since we’re making a low back pain device now, at a minimum I’d like to offer her one for the guy in Texas she’s helped. But mostly I’d just like to thank her for her clever approach and sacrifice to try to decrease the divides in our great country. We are noticing, Sarah, and grateful.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@amybaxtermd www.PainCareLabs.com #DuoThermCare
Originally published at medium.com