At Medgadget we speak with quite a few physicians-turned-entrepreneurs, and one of the most enthusiastic and impressive we’ve known is Dr. Amy Baxter. We first met Dr. Baxter at the AARP conference in Atlanta last October where she was showing off a simple, yet effective tool she developed for pain relief called “Buzzy.” There’s been a lot of, well, buzz about the device ever since she pitched it on Shark Tank and turned down the investors. Informed by her experiences as a pediatric emergency physician, Dr. Baxter took time out of her schedule to answer a few questions we had about the device and why she thinks everyone who experiences pain should have one.
Shiv Gaglani, Medgadget: How did you come up with the idea for Buzzy?
Dr. Amy Baxter: As an emergency physician and pain researcher, I realized that while pain control may be the most important thing for patients, it isn’t for most physicians. Doctors have to solve problems, and sometimes we learn to blast past pain to do that. For example, in the hospital the best we have to offer for needle pain are $12-40 numbing creams. In most situations we can’t plan ahead that well, and pain relief gets ignored. I figured if I could come up with something over the counter that worked in seconds, it would trump indifference to pain management: don’t like pain? Control it yourself, even at the hospital! It would be the ultimate in affordable care, too, because people that didn’t like needles would get their own and use it, and the system wouldn’t be burdened. Seeing the need was easy – coming up with the solution was the hard part. To be fast, I knew I needed to block pain in the same way that cool water instantly blocks out burn pain, or rubbing a bumped elbow makes it better. By manipulating the physiology of “gate control” with high frequency vibration and ice packs, Buzzy simulates the same pain relief as water over a burn. Other sensations are more important to the brain, so the relatively unimportant continuous pain alert is blocked out. After a few years of intermittently playing around with water channels and water in balloon-animal tubes, I had my eureka moment. Following an overnight emergency shift my steering wheel was vibrating, and voila! My hands got numb, and I saw the solution. Vibration alone is only 40% of the numbing – the frozen peas my husband suggested gave 60% of the numbing to our first prototype. Buzzy is high frequency vibration and a unique, solid-freezing ice pack that transmits the vibration while physiologically blocking pain.
Medgadget: What are the various use cases for the device?
Baxter: Initially I figured this would be for kids – I’m a pediatrician, and the traumatic number of shots 4-6 year olds get on the same day is resulting in young adults who are now afraid to go see their doctors. While Buzzy works great for teenager vaccinations and adults’ flu shots, it turns out a second kind of pain relief – Descending Noxious Inhibitory Control – comes from ice packs, and that only starts working well for adults and older kids who can tolerate the cold. While Buzzy has helped older kids who are just getting one or two shots on a given day, our research shows for age 4-6 it’s just better to limit the number of shots. Around the house, Buzzy is great for splinters, and in pediatric offices we’ve been written up multiple times as a help for wart removal and injections of lidocaine.
Buzzy for adults is where the uses are really exploding. Buzzy has blocked the genetic fainting reflex that 5% of the population has – it’s physiology, not fear – and has been shown in research from New Zealand to help increase compliance in people who don’t like painful injections. Buzzy was featured as a State of the Art in Facial Aesthetics conference for Botox and Fillers; laser hair removal and aesthetics or dentistry are probably our fastest growing areas. As we sold more and more of the Buzzy units for injections and published research for IV access, we started hearing from people using Buzzy for other sorts of pain. Eureka! Or, more appropriately, duh! If Buzzy blocks the most intense pain of needles, how obvious in hindsight that lesser pains would be good too? So in addition to IVF injections, arthritis and blood thinner shots, and infusions, Buzzy is now being used for knee pain, carpal tunnel, and over-use injuries. Anything you would ice or massage, Buzzy is both! Plus, in the past 8 years there has been a lot of research into the healing effects of high-frequency low amplitude vibration, the same vibration I researched and found was most effective for pain relief. The body knows what it’s doing. Since itching also travels on the a-delta pain nerves, a study found that Buzzy was the best at relieving distress from allergy scratch tests. Buzzy for eczema and itching makes sense.
Medgadget: Can you describe the scientific principles underlying the device?
Baxter: Gate control was first described in 1965 by Melzac and Wall. The concept is that fast but small a-delta pain nerves come to the same final pathway in the dorsal column of the spine that big A-Beta vibration motion fibers do. Slower temperature fibers also feed into the same place, and one message goes to the brain. If you overwhelm vibration and cold, you can “shut the gate” that lets pain squeeze through. There’s another mechanism using the cold called descending noxious inhibitory control, or DNIC. Imagine sticking your hand in a bucket of ice water: when you do, anywhere else on your body you can tolerate more pain. The cold both takes up bandwidth in the Anterior Cingulate Gyrus, and as we age we get used to blocking out noxious stimuli. Adults aren’t bothered by tags on clothes or intense tastes or even mosquito bites as much as kids are. In part, this is because our DNIC system is top notch, and we dampen down obnoxious sensations centrally for the whole body: this is why Buzzy grows more effective as people age.
Medgadget: Do you have any research findings supporting the use of Buzzy for pain relief?
Baxter: Our first study was with a huge clunky prototype, but we proved that cold and vibration together significantly reduced IV access pain in a cross-over adult trial, while the leading fast acting competitor cold spray did not. What was most interesting was that the more a person was afraid of needles, the better Buzzy worked. This was the first indication we had that pain sensitivity might differ between people: the more sensitive you are to pain, the more you fear it, but you’re also more sensitive to Buzzy so Buzzy helps more. Our next trial was for IV access in kids: we found Buzzy was twice as effective as cold spray. Other researchers picked up Buzzy as a fun and interesting thing to study: if you can decrease pain in seconds for pennies, how awesome if it’s better than standard care, right? First there was a study in Turkey that replicated our results using Buzzy for blood draws in children 6-12, and there is one that just got finished comparing Buzzy to one of the creams, we can’t wait for it to be published. A study in New Zealand found that after three times with an intervention including Buzzy, pain and anxiety dropped over half in a group that had been afraid of needles.
Medgadget: What is your background in medicine and technology?
Baxter: I trained in pediatric emergency medicine, but since high school I always enjoyed tinkering with wires and switches. When I had the idea for Buzzy, it was a no brainer to take apart things I had around the house to test different kinds of vibration for pain. Who doesn’t love destroying a gadget to see how it works– taking apart donated cell phones from my neighbors to harvest micro-motors was some of the most fun I’ve had making Buzzy. I also took apart a bunch of “personal massagers” – I can tell you, if you’re looking for motors, don’t spend extra money on that extra prong. They just have one motor per massager.
Product page: BUZZY…