Amy Baxter, MD, the queen bee of pediatric pain prevention
“I believe established medicine is courting a public health disaster, not because of costs or lawsuits or one dumb publication from a scientist gone bad, but because of a national Pavlovian failure of empathy.” — Amy Baxter
Who is Amy?
“Emergency pediatrician Amy Baxter noticed a disconnect in health care: caregivers often cause pain to solve a problem, but for many patients, pain is the problem. While researching the causes and consequences of untreated pain, she invented Buzzy, a bee-shaped device that physiologically takes the sting out of shots using high frequency vibrations and cold. Amy is the director of Emergency Research for Pediatric Emergency Medicine Associates at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Scottish Rite. In the academic world, she is known for creating and validating the BARF nausea scale for children, and an algorithm to measure the timing of child abuse. Honors include a 2011 Medical Design Excellence Award, Georgia Bio Innovative CEO of the Year, and a Wall Street Journal “Idea Person.”” (TEDMED, retrieved November 7, 2016)
In a recent conversation with Dr. Baxter, I asked her about her war on pain, and her appreciation for the field of Child Life.
What are your beliefs about pediatric pain and the need to prevent it?
I take seriously the oath to First Do No Harm. When iatrogenic procedural pain causes people to fear healthcare later in life, we have done harm. When we withhold pain management in the trauma bay, we do harm. I have always been suspicious when we do something without pain management to someone small enough to hold down, but we sedate or give analgesics when they’re big enough to fight back.
What do you believe children need most in the medical setting?
Children need to know they’re safe. Therefore, parents need to know we’re doing everything we can to make them not hurt. Something may happen that isn’t comfortable, but kids need to trust that they’ll be warned. If there isn’t any way to make it more comfortable, they need to know that their care team and parents are all agreeing and supporting what is best for the child. Even very young children know crap happens; what is scary is when the people who keep their world stable are visibly angry, confused or afraid. Pain isn’t the worst thing that happens, it’s pain when their parents seem unable to protect them. When I fix a nursemaid’s elbow or a patella, I offer analgesics, but let parent and child know I can make them feel better FAST right now but it is going to be uncomfortable for 5 seconds or less. Or they can wait, but it will still be a little uncomfortable. Most opt for fast, but that control and honestly let them know I’m thinking about not hurting them first and foremost.
Why is pain prevention important for very young children?
Kids who are persistently afraid of needles have healthcare consequences. They grow up to be adults who don’t get flu shots, or start insulin when they need it, or donate blood.
What motivates you in uphill battles with sensitizing other medical professionals to the necessity of pain control for infants and children?
I really believe that truth carries its own coercion. If people who want to heal see the truth of the importance of pain relief, they eventually will align their behaviors with that belief. No one wants to be an outlier in medicine. Once one person sees the truth, that pain relief matters, they can’t unsee that. Eventually the obvious will become apparent to everyone – we can make the entire system work better when we don’t hurt children.
How did you learn about Child Life?
I know this is hard to believe, but I can’t remember not knowing about Child Life. I’m sure we didn’t have Child Life in pediatrics when I was training, but perhaps because it always seemed such an obvious need when I first began seeing Child Life specialists, perhaps I assumed they always been someplace, just perhaps not in my department. I carried distraction toys on my stethoscope and in pockets since I began training, it just seemed logical. My oldest was born my first year of residency, so I had a natural connection to what worked for different ages from the beginning of my training.
Resources for doctors, parents, nurses, and child life specialists
In this TEDMED Talk
, Amy speaks to the increase in vaccinations in early childhood, and the impact it has in increasing needle fears later in life. Visit her Buzzy website
to find out more about the most cost effective way to prevent needle pain in infants and children.