[quote style=”boxed”]Take your initial budget and triple it. Make sure you have enough money to stay in business.[/quote]
Athlete, mother of four, and Johns Hopkins-educated physician, Elizabeth Chabner Thompson, 44, of Scarsdale, NY, has focused her entire career on improving patient care. However, it wasn’t until becoming a patient herself that she came up with the idea for her company, Best Friends for Life (BFFL Co.), that strives to enhance the patient experience before, during and after a hospital stay or treatment.
After undergoing a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction she found that there were many items she could have used for better comfort and care during her hospital stay and recovery. Elizabeth felt that while the surgeries and radiation treatment for diseases have rapidly evolved, the patient experience had not. For example, the surgical garments were designed in the 1970s and had not kept up with the medical progress and there was nothing for patient dignity in the Radiation Oncology space.
Also, she found that her own patients and friends were concerned and confused about their upcoming hospital stays: “What should I bring to the hospital? Why does this surgical bra hit just where my drains exit? Why are these undergarments I’m supposed to wear during my prostate treatments so uncomfortable? What will help me to recuperate quickly after childbirth?”
Elizabeth decided to design a line of cheerful and attractive bags, surgical accessories and helpful patient amenities to address these issues. Just weeks later when a dear friend asked what she would need for her own mastectomy, Thompson created the first BFFLBag™, full of items to improve the care experience for her.
Since then, Thompson put her New York City oncology practice on the side burner and started BFFL Co. to make her idea a business. She has been busy inventing and customizing specialized products, such as post-mastectomy bras and prostate dignity briefs, to ensure her BFFLBags improve the comfort and care of a wider range of patients. Most recently, she launched her delivery and postpartum New Mommy BFFLBag and Prostate Cancer BFFLBag, which are available online at the company’s site, www.bfflco.com.
Transitioning from oncologist and busy mom to the head of a rapidly growing business has been an adrenalin-filled experience for Thompson, who also holds a Masters in Public Health from Harvard. Today, she juggles seeing patients with attending meetings with potential distribution partners and hospital buyers, which provide the bag to leading hospitals around the country. She is proud to lead her company, BFFL Co., in greatly improving the patient experience and is excited that BFFLBags are taking off.
What are you working on right now?
I am creating a Pediatrics BFFLBag, as well as Cardiac and Orthopedic BFFLBags to bring improved patient care to more people – kids included!
Where did the idea for BFFLBags come from?
As a physician who became a patient, I realized first hand that there was more to the patient experience than just medicine. I saw that no one was creating a comprehensive solution and decided to do it myself.
What does your typical day look like?
I wake up and get myself and my four kids to sports activities (I’m an ultramarathon runner, swimmer and tennis player and my kids are into golf and swimming), and then school. Most days I spend time treating patients and building BFFL Co. This means I am constantly in meetings, on phone calls or sending emails.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I had to stop making lists and drawings and start doing. This began with endless trips to the garment district in NYC to create the perfect bra for those recovering from breast cancer, calls to medical supply companies, and a lot of brainstorming. There is a lot of risk taking in starting a business, especially a completely new concept, but I knew there was a need and was driven to make my idea a reality. Today, when I hear back from patients, nurses, doctors and they say, “thank you– that BFFLBag really helped me (or my patient,)” it’s all worth it!!
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I am happy to see that many hospitals are getting on board for improving the patient experience. After receiving mediocre hospital care scores from patients who felt underwhelmed during their hospital stay and confused about after care when they left, hospitals now understand the importance of a positive experience in the hospital and its effect on readmission rates and treatments. This makes hospitals more receptive to BFFLBags and better for patients.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I worked as a waitress for a few weeks while in high school. This made it hard for me to eat at restaurants after that– not exactly a sterile environment– I love working in hospitals.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Not take any meetings unless I know the agenda– many, many wasted hours where people have no idea what the other person wants.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Take your initial budget and triple it. Make sure you have enough money to stay in business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I thought I would go into a joint venture very early on with a lovely person who did not have the same work ethic as I. I hired lawyers to draw up papers and then had a really miserable feeling that I was making a mistake. I wasted a lot of money before starting my business. For some people, working full time on a project means 4 hours a day, others it means 20. I am a 20-hour person.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Distribution is everything. Finding the right ways to distribute your product or service can make or break your business. For us, going direct to consumers, selling to hospital buyers and soon, selling through a leading floral delivery corporation seems to be the best formula.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
So many patients are afraid to speak up when they are in the hospital because they don’t want to be perceived as pushy or needy. There is so much we can do to make them happier by bringing them dignity and comfort without asking them to push the call button.
Tell us a secret.
Women can have it all – especially when they have a supportive husband like I do.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Facebook, blogs and Twitter because they move so quickly and provide me with instant feedback.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee– it helps to understand the history of cancer and the direction therapy is moving
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
@andersoncooper– phenomenal reporter
@billiejking– phenomenal sports legend
@cancerhawk– bringing information to patients and families fighting cancer
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
My husband and I saw the movie, Queen of Versailles last Friday night. I laughed so hard, I nearly peed in my pants. Love the spirit of Jackie Seagal. She’s a survivor, but really, really absurd.
Who is your hero?
My father – an incredible doctor, father and role model of integrity, service and devotion to family, friends, and patients. Nancy Tarbell and Jay Loeffler -a power couple in the field of cancer treatment, mentoring, and just good honest, fun people. Nancy Tarbell shows women how to be a mother, wife, Dean of Harvard Medical School and cure children of cancer. Is that the perfect Trifeca, or what?
What was the best advice given to you as a doctor?
When the day gets pressured and crazy and you need to get through rounds as fast as possible, go into a patient’s room and sit down on the edge of the bed during rounds, touch the patient and make them feel human. Never stand, never and look antsy– make the patient feel like they are the only thing on your mind– you’ll make them happy and relieve their anxiety.
What are three things you need every day?
Sleep, hugs from my children and a text or call from my husband and mother.
BFFL Co’s Site:www.bfflco.com
BFFL on Facebook: www.facebook.com/bfflco
BFFL on Twitter: @bfflco
Elizabeth Thompson on Linkedin: Elizabeth Thompson
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.