Pediatrician Teaches Healthy Lifestyle to Children, Families

It’s not unusual for an adolescent to cry when he or she has to visit the doctor. What is unusual is that they cry when it’s time to leave the doctor’s office. But that’s the case at Thornburg Pediatrics in Naples, Fla., one of the only concierge pediatric medicine practices in the country.

“Siblings of sick patients or even well children love coming to the office because they get to run around and play in such a child-friendly atmosphere,” says Brian Thornburg, MSM, DO, PA, FAAP, of the practice he has run out of his home since 2006. “Some of them actually bring their friends because they want to hang out at the office.”

Building the practice

Thornburg married Helen Thornburg, MD, in 2001, when he worked at a successful, high-volume pediatric practice, and she was an emergency medicine physician. But with a growing family of seven children, they often dealt with the struggles of blending marriage, family, and professional careers. That’s when his wife left her career to stay home full-time with their children, and Thornburg set out to open his own practice.

At the time, only one other pediatrician in the country was doing concierge pediatric medicine, so the venture was one Thornburg found scary.

“I looked at what I would want to receive as a parent if I weren’t a pediatrician myself, and designed the whole practice from that perspective,” he says. “I started making only home visits. And within a year I became so busy that I had to centralize an office, because more and more parents were coming for that more personalized style.”

Parents like Thornburg’s practice because, unlike a traditional visit to the pediatrician that might last seven to 10 minutes, Thornburg spends as much as one hour with a child and his or her family.

Children like it because the practice is on a farm with a full playground, outdoor garden and farm animals. In fact, Thornburg and his family promote self-sustainability, and grow a wide variety of organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs in their gardens. It’s a lifestyle he tries to impart to his patients and their families by offering gardening classes so families learn healthy eating habits.

“We actually have the kids and their families planting and potting, and then I get feedback from the kids about how they’re eating their food,” Thornburg says. “They’re excited to eat healthier, and they also learn a life skill that can serve them in the future. There’s lots of confusion with food and what’s safe and what’s not. Well, you know if it’s grown in your backyard it’s most likely safe.”

The children also learn a lot about life in an environment that includes cows, goats, chickens, guinea hens, and peacocks.

“We just birthed a calf a couple of months ago, so the children enjoy coming here to visit the baby calf,” he says.

Spreading the word

For the past five years, Thornburg has been working on a how-to book so that other pediatricians could implement similar set-ups in their practices. More recently, that manual has grown into Innovative Pediatrics, LLC, a full-fledged practice management company that can walk physicians through the entire set-up, and then assist with business support until the practice is established. Thornburg launched the endeavor at this month’s American Academy of Pediatrics meeting in Boston.

“The practice would be tailored to the pediatrician’s own interests,” Thornburg explains. “It doesn’t have to be animals. If the pediatrician is a musician or an artist, they can create their own atmosphere that would be child welcoming and professional.”

Thornburg says he is excited by the way Innovative Pediatrics has come together in such a short time, and believes it has the opportunity to change, to some degree, the way medicine is practiced.

“It’s a common sense approach,” Thornburg says. “You have the opportunity with the time that is available to see the patient, to get to know the parents and the child very well, so that you can practice better medicine. And one of the hot topics in medicine is ‘what are the outcomes’? Don’t just treat the person and they leave. What’s really important is what happens afterward. So, you’re able to have amazing follow up, and the parents just smile when they get a phone call back from a doctor. So, it’s really exciting what this can do.”