We hear a lot about how US medicine is broken, from how much we spend annually ($4 trillion) for unimpressive outcomes, to the growing epidemic of obesity and diabetes, to problematic financial models, to the growing malaise amongst doctors.
Across US health care, a lot of smart people are crafting solutions to these problems, but in my view the reality is that many of them are generating efficiencies on top of a broken product.
The real problem is that conventional primary care as it’s practiced today no longer serves the needs of most people, be they wealthy or under-served, be they patient or provider.
I am starting Parsley Health, a new kind of medical practice that directly addresses these problems, first by providing something called Functional Medicine rather than traditional primary care, and second by providing functional medicine in a tech driven, modern and affordable way.
What is Functional Medicine?
I became a functional medicine doctor because early on I recognized two major limitations of the conventional medicine.
First conventional medicine does not effectively address the fact that most individuals’ health is determined by three things: day-to-day behavior; access to health-defining resources like unprocessed food and regular exercise; and how lifestyle choices affect the body, about which education levels are shockingly low amongst all socioeconomic demographics.
Second, conventional medicine is overly reliant on drugs that suppress symptoms but do not address the underlying cause of disease. Your insomnia, for example, isn’t due to an Ambien deficiency, but a conventional doctor doesn’t have the time, the resources or the training to educate you and support you in addressing the multifactorial reasons you can’t sleep, so you’re given a drug like Ambien, which is addictive and has multiple problematic side effects.
Functional medicine is an approach to the practice of medicine that better suits the needs and challenges of the 21st century individual because it addresses the root cause of disease, and seeks to understand the multiple upstream factors that determine a person’s health, including personal history, genetics, current lifestyle, environment, and mental and emotional factors.
Functional medicine’s toolkit is also much broader. It takes advantage of best practices from all over the world, including diet and lifestyle modification, stress management, detoxification, supplements and botanical medicines, and when necessary, prescription drugs.
Functional medicine works because its providers spend meaningful time with patients–often visits are 60+ minutes–which allows them to create authentic two-way therapeutic relationships and to provide the level of education and support that most patients today need in order to make meaningful lifestyle changes.
Functional medicine has earned greater acceptance across the medical establishment, most notably with this October’s opening of the Cleveland Clinic’s new Center for Functional Medicine. But today functional medicine is still not available to most Americans.
Parsley Health’s goals are to provide functional medicine to mainstream Americans, thereby lowering the chronic disease burden, lowering health care costs, improving the happiness of doctors, and improving the user experience in health care for more people.
Parsley achieves these goals in four specific ways. First, by providing its services through a direct-primary care based membership model, meaning patients pay a monthly subscription fee. Parsley Health is making functional medicine accessible to many more people than before, while still avoiding the limitations of accepting insurance, which stifles doctors’ ability to offer new models of care delivery.
Second, Parsley offers unlimited health coaching services. Health coaches are critical members of the functional medicine team because of the importance of education and personal support to the success of patients who would otherwise struggle to make and maintain lifestyle change.
Third, by providing functional medicine through a digital technology-driven services platform, Parsley is able to make health care more efficient, modern and enjoyable for both patients and providers. From backend office services, to patient access to all labs, notes and health care data, to tracking outcomes in real time, technology is the backbone of Parsley’s practice.
Fourth, Parsley saves money in two ways. One, it largely reverses and prevents chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, asthma, autoimmune disease and even dementia, which account for more than 75% of health care costs. Two, as an alternative to an employee wellness program, Parsley can save employers money through improved productivity and lower insurance premiums.
Parsley Health is ultimately a new hybrid model of health care that combines the functional medicine approach that makes more sense for patients of all walks of life, with new care delivery models that both increase access to better medicine for more people, and that let doctors practice the kind of medicine that makes them feel good too. Parsley opens in January in New York City, and I invite you to find out more at parsleyhealth.co.
Robin Berzin is the CEO of Parsley Health and also works with Health 2.0 on Health Interactive