In her lecture “Hacking Healthcare: How Makers can Save Medicine” at the 2013 Bay Area Maker Faire, Dr. Amy Baxter, an Atlanta-based pediatrician and pain researcher, told the story of taking her 4-year-old son in for a routine vaccination.
Like many people, her son Max was scared of needles, so she came armed with topical anesthetic cream to numb the pain, books for distraction and a juice box for a soothing sensation. But a gruff nurse came in, discredited the numbing cream by saying it didn’t work, then proceeded to tell Max to “sit there, don’t move, this is going to hurt.”
Max was so traumatized, he began vomiting. In fact, from then on, he did so every time he heard he was scheduled for a doctor’s appointment, regardless if he needed a shot. That’s when Baxter came up with the idea for Buzzy, a device that takes the sting out of getting stuck by a needle.
The device consists of a vibrating motor and a wing-shaped ice pack to confuse the body’s nerves and distract attention away from a needle’s poke. In the same way that running a burn under cold water reduces the pain, Buzzy uses the gate theory to stimulate cold receptors in the nervous system to block sharp pain.
Baxter first came up with the idea when, after driving home from a late shift at the hospital, she noticed her hands were numb from gripping the vibrating steering wheel for an extended period of time. She eventually tested her idea using a Turboflex vibrator and a bag of frozen peas.
In 2006, Baxter established MMJ Labs to further develop her prototypes and find other solutions for relieving sharp pain. Through a series of grants and awards, Buzzy was officially launched in 2009, and since then Baxter has been promoting the device and even conducting academic research that showed Buzzy significantly reduces pain by around 50 percent in children and 80 percent in adults.
Those needing weekly or daily injections, such a patients afflicted with rheumatism and diabetes, are expected to benefit from the device, but Baxter says Buzzy works just as well for shots, bee stings, boo-boos and injected medicines. For bee stings or splinters, Buzzy comes with Bee-Stractors, cards that fit into notches on the device to shield tweezers as they do their digging.
The original Buzzy can be ordered online for $39.95, along with a variety of accessories. Sure, fear of needles may sound like small potatoes next to bigger medical issues like cancer and $500 co-pays, but the sheer fact that Baxter identified a problem and hacked a solution truly embodies the Maker Faire spirit.