Health Tech: Melanie Silverman On How Pacify’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness
Approach the problem with a judgment-free mindset. The power of technology is that it opens up services to a wide range of people. But to be successful, you must understand that your users are coming to you from a million different places — geographically and emotionally. To do the most good with the technology you create, you must be open to meeting your users wherever they are, even if that’s somewhere you didn’t expect.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melanie Silverman, MS, RD, IBCLC, President and Chief Clinical Officer of Pacify Health.
Melanie Silverman is the President and Chief Clinical Officer at health technology company Pacify, which provides new parents 24/7 access to healthcare experts from their smartphones. Melanie is a pediatric registered dietitian and a board-certified lactation consultant with more than 20 years of experience in the hospital and private practice setting. She has committed her career to helping new parents access on-demand healthcare services to improve health outcomes and has built Pacify’s clinical networks from the ground up since its start in 2014.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up in Columbus, Ohio in a little town called Bexley. I’m the oldest of three children. I’ve been interested in healthcare since the 6th grade when my teacher, Carla Bauer, gave the class a cardiology exam; I still remember I scored a 96%. I was ecstatic! That test sealed the deal for my career.
My father also had a huge influence on me — he was a medical malpractice attorney who did mostly defense work for doctors and hospitals and sat on hospital ethics committees. Over the years, I’ve probably had hundreds of discussions with him about the intersection of healthcare and ethics and what makes a great healthcare provider.
I went to Indiana University where I double-majored in chemistry and Spanish and then quickly pivoted towards nutrition. I completed my master’s degree in clinical nutrition at Rush University in Chicago, which started the career path I’m on today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
First, I remember the moment I deeply understood that breastfeeding can be a worldwide anxiety for new parents. For many years, I only had exposure to breastfeeding parents in the United States and the vast majority of them were extremely anxious. Then, in 2013, I traveled to Peru and met with new mothers who lived in the jungles without plumbing and all of the comforts many take for granted. These mothers shared with me the same breastfeeding anxiety that parents I’d work with in the United States have.
Across the board, parents’ anxiety centered around whether their bodies could make enough milk to support their babies. And in every case, my support for mothers begins with empathy and education. Nearly all parents worry that their body won’t be able to sustain the baby’s life. In this way, the breastfeeding struggle is a great equalizer.
Second, most recently, I was asked to step up to become the President of Pacify after serving as Chief Clinical Officer for 8 years — so that’s been an interesting career story.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ll always be very grateful to George Brandes, the former Pacify CEO. What I valued most about our eight years together is that we handle pressure differently. He’s a big-picture thinker, calm and funny, whereas I can stress about every single detail. More times than I can count, he helped me take a breath and see situations in a clearer light. He has this uncanny ability to relax a very highly-charged situation. Since he left, I’m channeling him daily when I navigate challenges at Pacify. I’m forever grateful to George, and I’m doing my very best to support the company he built.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve always liked this quote by Maya Angelou: “When people show you who they are, believe them.”
Historically, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to read people very well and have made some poor decisions when it comes to friendships. In the last few years, I’ve become much better at sifting through toxic people and assessing situations much more quickly to surround myself with good people.
This newfound skill has served me well at Pacify. Every day, we encounter people who may have advanced degrees and years of experience in their fields and claim they want to support new parents and their feeding choices. But when it comes down to it, I can tell they make parents feel uncomfortable about their decisions around breastfeeding, bottle feeding, pumping or using formula. I have zero tolerance for this behavior in healthcare and will not support these people in my field–or hire them at Pacify.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The three traits that have been most instrumental to my success have been:
- Dedication. From our start in 2014, I thought Pacify was a great idea and dedicated myself to the cause. I was up many nights until 2 AM building the networks and used to pull over on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles to answer Pacify calls myself. (That made George nervous so I stopped.) I’ve never been more dedicated to a job in my life and continue to feel this way eight years later. Now, I spend late nights strategizing about how to help more new parents, make our product better, support our amazing providers and keep us ahead of the curve.
- Being a good listener. In this role, especially recently, I have a lot coming at me. I need to take care of my team, my providers, our patients and our potential partners. In every situation, it can be tempting to speed through conversations because there’s so much on my plate. But it’s even more important now to stop, be present and really listen to everyone I encounter. I need to not just hear what people are saying to me, but how they feel when they say it, what they may be worried about and what they need in order to succeed.
- Kindness. That quote from Kurt Vonnegut rings true: “Goddamn it, you’ve got to be kind.” This applies to two areas of the business; the callers and the Pacify team. The vast majority of people who call Pacify are having such a difficult time. This is especially true for new mothers, who feel judged about their feeding choices. We have strict guidelines on who we hire and if we detect there may be a shred of unkind behavior or judgment towards parents, we don’t bring them on the network and put them in front of callers. The Pacify team is the kindest team around! We have a reputation of being kind to our callers and especially to our partners and most importantly, we are kind to each other. This culture helps move the business forward.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
Here’s the problem in the United States: New parents do not have fast access to doulas for questions during pregnancy or lactation consultants for feeding help. Too many parents have to rely on a search engine when they are pregnant or learning how to feed their babies. At Pacify, we believe that every single parent in the United States should have access to pregnancy support and feeding help whenever they need it. That isn’t the case yet, but we’re looking to solve that problem as soon as possible.
How do you think your technology can address this?
Technology is the only way to get to this goal of universal lactation and doula care. While the brick-and-mortar healthcare system can be extremely difficult to navigate, our platform is super easy to use, HIPAA-compliant and intuitive for people who sign up.
We’ve seen that, through our model, we can answer calls from parents in less than a minute, 24/7, 365 days a year. And the COVID-19 pandemic proved out the idea we theorized in 2014 that so much can be done in a telemedicine environment. Years later, we keep discovering more ways we could support new parents by giving them the help they need as well as evidence-based information and care.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
In May 2014, Ben Lundin, one of the co-founders of Pacify asked me: “Why do so many people go to the emergency room for breastfeeding care?” That question sparked a series of discussions that resulted in Pacify.
The answer, of course, is that many people have nowhere else to go. Infant feeding problems usually don’t happen on a 9–5 schedule, when clinics are open. Even when they do, many parents have other jobs and responsibilities and other children — they can’t easily leave their homes. Those early conversations made me believe Pacify was the answer. We could use technology to do something that could make a real difference–and it has! I knew then and can see now that we had something really special with Pacify.
How do you think this might change the world?
We realize that not every single parent wants to breastfeed. We absolutely respect that choice! But there are those people who want to breastfeed and just cannot find the support they need to be successful. They fall through the cracks and don’t breastfeed as long as they would have wanted to. The immediacy of Pacify is the real gamechanger. Parents can talk to an expert in minutes, rather than waiting weeks or months like they usually do to see their OB GYN, pediatrician or primary care provider. This instantaneous access helps parents to initiate and extend breastfeeding rates and keep parents and new babies healthier.
Pacify is solely based in the United States, but can be replicated in countries around the world. We are having conversations with Ireland and other countries. There are about 34,000 lactation consultants in 125 countries and territories across the world. To change the world, we want to go global with Pacify!
We wouldn’t want to go down a road where technology completely replaces in-person care. But for many of the people who use Pacify, it’s not a choice between Pacify and in-person care, it’s a choice between Pacify and nothing.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)
- Approach the problem with a judgment-free mindset. The power of technology is that it opens up services to a wide range of people. But to be successful, you must understand that your users are coming to you from a million different places — geographically and emotionally. To do the most good with the technology you create, you must be open to meeting your users wherever they are, even if that’s somewhere you didn’t expect.
- Partner with an excellent technology provider who knows who you are. Your tech team is much more than programmers, they should be part of your strategy. We have been lucky enough to work with an excellent company called MassLight that has been with us every step of the way since 2014. They always come with fresh ideas and enthusiasm when we evolve the app. Most importantly, they share our mission. They get a lot of gratification seeing the good we’ve been able to do with the platform they’ve helped us build.
- Prioritize racial, socioeconomic and cultural diversity. This should be a priority for all companies, but this is especially important for health technology companies building networks of providers. There’s a national conversation happening around the importance of culturally-sensitive care and how it can change outcomes. It’s crucial to make sure your provider networks reflect the diversity of the populations you serve.
- Only hire people who believe in your mission…and are willing to understand all areas of the business. Hiring the right people is probably the most important aspect of a successful company. Find people who believe in the mission and, more importantly, are able to roll up their sleeves and do the work. Most technology companies go through a phase where everyone on the team has to be scrappy. That’s certainly been true for us and continues to be true. All of us are stretching beyond what we’ve been hired to do, but this makes the foundation of the company that much stronger, even after all these years.
- Focus on a user who can’t afford your service. At Pacify, we’ve felt like we could make the greatest difference in health outcomes by providing a best-in-class service to a user who usually struggles to access immediate, high-quality care. This has led us to create new payment models, partnering with Medicaid managed care plans and public health programs. We’ve since expanded our partners to include employers and others who offer Pacify through private insurance. But the core of our company is and always will be bridging gaps in access to maternal and pediatric services.
If you really want to make a social impact, stay laser-focused on a user who needs what you provide the most. Get creative about how it can be funded, and, in many cases, the money will follow.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I’m having some interesting conversations with my teenagers right now. Sometimes they read the news and feel like things are so awful that it’s pointless to try to make a change. I try to emphasize to them that every positive word or action can move society in a positive direction. Everyone needs to step up and help each other. This may mean picking up loose trash on the streets, helping a kid with their homework or making meals for someone who is sick. All of it counts.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I want to have brunch with Michael Pollan. As a dietitian, I have so much admiration for how he guided society to look at food — where we get it and how we use it. He was integral in the national movement towards more fresh food. I have to believe he’d be really excited about Pacify and our mission around breastmilk — the most nutritious of all foods. Michael and I live in the same state. I’ll travel to the Bay Area and let him pick the brunch spot.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please follow us @pacifyapp on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook too! And keep up with the latest via our newsroom.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.
Health Tech: Melanie Silverman On How Pacify’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.