I received a disturbing call today. I was sitting outside, enjoying the Berkeley sun and eating ice cream with my kids, when my phone rang. There was no caller ID. I didn’t catch the name, but she said she was calling from my kids’ pediatrician’s office. My first reaction was mild annoyance—was this about a bill? “I have some sad news,” she said. My annoyance turned to fear—is there something wrong with one of my kids? I took them in for their well child visits just last week; they were fine. “Dr. Wolffe passed away this weekend,” she finished.
As the news sank in over the next few hours, I reflected on the role that Dr. Wolffe played in our lives. Yes, he was my kids’ doctor for almost 10 years, but he was also a special, reassuring presence in my life. My son had numerous health issues as a baby. Our first pediatrician underdiagnosed him and dismissed me as overprotective. Dr. Wolffe listened to me and ordered the tests that confirmed my suspicions. Visits to his office would last an hour on average. He loved to talk, talk, talk about health and child development, give advice, and share his very strong opinions.
When I brought my son in as a toddler because he didn’t seem to be responding to his asthma medication, it turned out his blood oxygen level was dangerously low (despite the fact that he was happy and running around the office). Dr. Wolffe shut his office and stayed after-hours to administer treatment. For two hours, he watched cartoons and joked with my son while monitoring his progress. And he praised me for trusting my instincts and bringing him in. Another time, when we suspected a developmental delay, Dr. Wolffe advocated hard on our behalf, trying to get us services from our local Regional Center, even though we didn’t technically qualify.
I have always been grateful for the care he has given to my kids. But it is only now that I realize that he was also supporting a young mother. That’s a very special role that pediatricians can play in the lives of children and families.
Here at the Lab, we have been heads down these past few months thinking about the ways technology can be used to support the parents of young children. As part of that work we are looking at the systems and channels that reach parents and how they can better incorporate technology into the support they provide. We know that pediatricians and health clinics are an important and trusted touch point for parents and that they have close to universal reach to families.
We have been delighted to connect with and learn about the work that Jonathan Goldfinger is leading with the HealthySteps program at Zero to Three; Dayna Long’s amazing work with the FIND (Family Information and Navigation Desk) program at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland; Lisa Chamberlain and Janine Bruce’s work at Stanford University’s School of Medicine; and Dr. Jin Lee of Qidza’s developmental screening app, Baby Noggin. Our report on the ways we can better leverage technology to support parents will be ready to share in the fall. But you can bet that it includes a recommendation that we build on the trust and respect that we have for health care professionals and the innovation so many amazing people are bringing into health clinics and pediatricians’ offices. I know there are many other Dr. Wollfes out there working tirelessly every day.