Author Bio: Dr. Sanusi Umar MD is the author of this article.
The significance of empathy, the awareness of how another person perceives or feels, is often underestimated. When there is a specific goal to be achieved, the role of empathy is often perceived as a secondary nice-to-have or considered completely irrelevant. But here, at the Dr. U Hair and Skin Clinics, here in Los Angeles, it has been a foremost factor that has guided our thinking processes and enabled us to successfully produce the best treatment outcomes for our patients. One example, in particular, is the application of laser for resolving early stage AKN (Acne Keloidalis Nuchae) lesions.
Rethinking the Status Quo of Existing AKN Laser Treatment Using Empathy
The initial manifestations of Acne Keloidalis Nuchae resemble small pimples, which in many cases can be treated with laser in order to flatten them. Essentially, this process works by focusing the energy of the laser to permanently destroy the mechanisms of hair growth within the follicle.
In AKN, hair is the main trigger of the condition, causing surrounding skin tissue to become irritated and promoting excessive fibrotic healing to take place. By using laser energy to remove the hair and destroy the region of the follicle which produces new hair shafts, it is then possible to stop the progression of AKN, causing the lesions to subside.
Overall, the common practice of using laser to treat small Acne Keloidalis Nuchae bumps has focused on targeting just the lesions themselves. While this can help patients become free of the unwanted papules and nodules, it also leaves them with yet another cosmetic problem, a patchy looking appearance on the back of the head. Having felt incredibly self-conscious about having a proliferation of small bumps in the nape area, they must face new concerns about others noticing empty bald regions in an area that would otherwise show a uniform density.
Accomplishing the basic job of doing away with the small AKN bumps is not enough. If you position yourself in the patient’s shoes, you will then realize that more can be done to help them achieve a higher level of satisfaction.
The Challenges of Living Life with Acne Keloidalis Nuchae
From taking the time to speak to our AKN patients, we are deeply aware that their lesions are the source of an enormous amount of stress and embarrassment.
On a day to day basis, Acne Keloidalis Nuchae sufferers constantly worry about others noticing and staring at the bumps on the back of their heads.
They often withdraw socially, preferring to spend much of their time alone. Even going to the barber, like everyone else is something they would rather avoid. Some choose to wear their hair longer and give themselves haircuts.
Yet, since most men prefer wearing their hair conservatively short, these individuals start to compare themselves less favorably. Seeing themselves as less attractive than others, they start to develop lower self-esteem and confidence.
It became immensely clear to us that more could and should be done to improve upon the final results that are typically achieved with laser.
We realized that it was not enough to just flatten the bump lesions. It was important to help our patients regain a normal life and forget about their AKN condition. They would be able to go through life, like everyone else, not having to worry about what the back of their head looks like.
Critical New Thinking – Asking the Right Questions To Improve Laser Treatment Results for AKN Patients
In our drive to improve the quality of life for our Acne Keloidalis Nuchae patients, we identified a set of critical questions to guide our process for creating better treatment outcomes.
- What types of initial stage bumps can be expected to be treated successfully through the use of laser?
- What type of laser would produce the most effective results for qualified patients?
- How can laser be applied differently to prevent the patchy outcomes, commonly seen on patients, and avoid the risk of lesion recurrence?
Defining the Types of Early Stage AKN Bumps That Can Be Treated with Laser
Not all small AKN bumps automatically qualifies for successful treatment with laser.
It has been common for patients to still have lesional bumps following their laser treatment. This forced us to ask ourselves what types of bumps are in fact eligible for this type of intervention.
We have found that the vertical height (from the skin’s surface) should be no greater than 2mm. Taller lesions would limit the ability of the laser energy to reach the bottom of the follicle where hair production takes place.
What Laser Type Would Give the Best Results for AKN Patients?
As noted earlier, tissue penetration depth is a critical factor. The laser energy must be able to penetrate vertically downward through the individual bump and continue to reach the bottom of the hair follicle.
We consider the Nd:YAG laser to be an ideal choice since it is able to reach a depth of 7mm. Hence, it would penetrate the 2mm lesion above the skin’s surface and 5mm below, which is the average length of most hair follicles.
How Should Laser for Acne Keloidalis Nuchae Be Applied to Avoid Patchiness on the Back of the Head – Introducing the Concept of Treatment Zones
Rather than applying the laser strictly to each individual AKN bump, we developed the novel concept of treating entire regions. We outlined specific treatment zones based on the severity of AKN spread.
In the most common patient cases, the lesions reside as a cluster in the lower part of the scalp. Based on our concept of treatment zones, the laser would be applied to all hair follicles within these confines, not just the ones giving rise to actual bumps.
This approach produces clearly defined hairline above a bare nape where the bumps have been eradicated. Rather than being left with patchiness, patients can have a normal looking, solid region of hair in-tact.
Although the posterior hairline is now raised, the back of the head appears natural, not unusual enough for others to stare at or even notice.
Besides helping patients achieve better cosmetic outcomes, treating the entire zone by targeting all the follicles within its borders prevents new lesions from developing.
A Study on How Empathy Improves Thinking Processes
A research effort organized by Kelly Herd at the University of Connecticut compared the problem-solving insights and conclusions derived from two styles of thinking, one that adopts an empathetic perspective versus a non-empathetic, strictly goal-driven outlook.
Two hundred participants took part in the research. Each was given the challenge of creating concepts for a potato chip brand created specifically for women who were pregnant.
Half the subjects were simply given questions to answer. And the other half was instructed to come up with their answers by imagining how these women felt.
The group who assumed an empathetic positioning produced more innovative and creative ideas than the non-empathetic group. According to the researchers, empathy enhances cognitive flexibility and creativity by broadening a person’s perspective on a given situational context.
Empathy Based Product and Service Development in the Commercial World
We certainly believe that the role of empathy is essential for fully understanding the broader context of a product or service within the lives of real people.
Within the greater commercial market, the role of empathy seems to be assuming a far more centralized role, particularly in recent years.
According to Harvard Business Review, “The discipline of product management is shifting from an external focus on technology to an empathetic focus on people.” In one particular article, they also note that “For Any Product to be Successful, Empathy is Key.”
There is now an actual discipline referred to as Empathetic Design, which is conducted by observing consumers and identifying their feelings, instead of simply collecting the answers to market research questionnaires. The issue with the more conventional approach is that biases and false information may be provided. By prioritizing empathy and the feelings of consumers, higher valued products can be developed.
Beyond the scope of treating Acne Keloidalis Nuchae, we can find many examples where empathy has led to a product or service that has created enormous impact within the lives of customers. In fact, there is now an Empathy Index which rates companies on the basis of these criteria. Examples of companies who have made the top ten include Facebook, LinkedIn, Netflix and Whole Foods Market.
Empathy is no longer being regarded as just a frivolous, secondary consideration, taking a backseat to the bottom line or the ultimate objective at hand. It is now a critical factor for building a more connected world, meeting the basic human need we all share of wanting to feel understood.
At our clinic, we stand by this principle and will continue to be driven by empathy to make efforts towards better outcomes for the people who count on us for help.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How has empathy played a role in the development of patient treatment approaches for other types of Acne Keloidalis Nuchae lesions, at the Dr.U Hair and Skin Clinics?
Besides our laser approach for treating small-sized bumps, we have also developed new approaches for better cosmetic outcomes after the surgical removal of fused/ coalesced lesions. This includes manifestations in the upper nuchal area as well as much larger sized lesions in the lower nuchal region. Our specialized for both cases leaves patients with less noticeable scarring which is highly discrete, either camouflaged by the patient’s own hair, or aligned with the posterior hairline.
As Dr. U has been recognized for his advancements in hair transplantation, what are some ways that empathy has played a role in these developments
Dr.U himself has personally experienced the aftermath of botched hair transplant results. This led him to investigate more deeply into the specific causes that prevent grafts from surviving and producing desired forms of growth for patients. The insights that were derived from these inquiries formed the basis for his Dr.UGraft™ technology.
The collective set of features have been engineered to overcome the foremost challenges that contribute to graft transection and non-survival. Additionally, Dr.UGraft makes it possible for donor depleted cases (e.g. severe baldness, hair transplant repair, and young patients headed towards Norwood 6-7 baldness) to benefit from expanded graft supplies due to the technology’s ability to safely harvest hair follicles from anywhere on the body.
Furthermore, as an individual of African descent, Dr.U has also utilized an empathetic, problem-solving approach to build his Dr.UGraft™ extraction technology around the specific needs of black patients, adjusting for different skin thickness levels in order to minimize transection rates. Thus, all patients of African origin are able to confidently anticipate the growth they had planned for.
How is empathy used in skin cosmetic treatments offered at the Dr.U Hair and Skin Clinics?
Dr.U is aware that most patients are hoping to achieve the most natural-looking results possible. Rather than simply relying on standard protocols, he starts with a clear understanding of the patient’s vision in mind and creates personalized approaches to achieve them. Dr.U’s before and after patient videos ( for procedures such as skin resurfacing, age spot removal, lip augmentation, Botox, non-surgical nose enhancements and more ) depict outcomes where the use of cosmetic procedures cannot be detected.