Parsley Health, a NY-based startup, has raised a $10 million Seed A financing led by an early stage VC firm, FirstMark. The funding comes nearly two years after Parsley Health was founded to look at healthcare from outside the prism of pills, prescriptions, and paternalistic doctors.
The Founder and CEO Dr Robin Berzin believes that primary healthcare in the U.S. is broken and that “the answer isn’t just another pill”. Like Welltok, Parsley Health wants the healthcare conversation to move from sick care to proactive care.
There are statistics to back her claim: According to the CDC, half of all adults—117 million people—had one or more chronic health conditions. Despite this alarming figure, the solutions are rarely holistic.
Parsley Health, therefore, utilizes something called functional medicine and uses a systems-biology approach to resolve and manage modern chronic diseases. This means that it looks beyond the symptoms to address the root cause of the problem. It also uses biomarker testing that can tell you not just about lifestyle diseases like diabetes or thyroid but about food sensitivities, cortisol levels, signs of autoimmune issues; along with examining hormonal imbalances in your microbiome.
How it works: A user can choose a one-time assessment or the complete care membership. In both cases, you are required to enter a large amount of data about yourself – from family health history to past procedures to symptoms and lifestyle. A range of lab tests are also advised.
Your visit is then scheduled with a doctor at your chosen location inside Parsley’s WeWork office space in New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco. This lasts 75 minutes followed by a 45 minute meeting with a health coach.
Parsley is the only medical health service provided inside a WeWork coworking space, in the sense that it’s right where its millennial audience is.
It is also positioning itself aptly as when a patient visits, he/she doesn’t see dreary or overcrowded waiting room. Nor is s/he greeted with an impersonal, overworked doctor for a hit-and-miss consultation.
While average doctors spends less than 15 minutes with a patient, Parsley doctors spend 75 minutes. It takes that much time to look at the patient’s entire personal health history from birth, his/her diet, lifestyle, genomics, microbiome, and past medication.
The doctor and the health coach then create a health profile or what Parsley Health calls, “an overview of basic biomarkers using Parsley’s standard, in-depth diagnostic panel”.
This panel is not exhaustive and looks mainly at lifestyle-driven diseases such as diabetes analysis, thyroid function along with heart health, inflammation, liver & kidney function, and nutrient status.
The physician might prescribe medication, recommend supplements or a specialist to see, and the health coach might give you recipes for a diet, goals for stress management, advice on physical exercise, etc.
Parsley Health, therefore, is not a one-stop solution for healthcare but an add-on. It can be better understood as a membership-based wellness or primary care practice. It doesn’t offer emergency services – you can’t go to Parsley if you have a medical emergency, but complete care members can call the doctors to answer questions about semi-urgent issues like a UTI or a sinus infection. It is also important to note that even though it employs full-time doctors, it has no specialists.
It also costs dearly. A one-time assessment costs $500 excluding the cost of prescribed lab tests or medicines. And an annual membership which includes five doctor’s visits, five health coaching visits, customized lab testing and virtual messaging with the team, costs $150 – $250 a month.
Take a Parsley Health member Sarah Kurz, 36, for example. She was suffering from Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EOE) a chronic allergic and autoimmune disease that gave her inflammation and plaques in her esophagus.
New York City’s top doctors reached a dead-end as their typical treatment wasn’t working. So much so, that during one treatment, she had also developed a side-effect. After spending two years and performing numerous endoscopies at multiple ‘top-rated’ NYC doctors, her symptoms were worsening. It was then that she thought of giving Parsley Health a chance. She was hoping that the new-age wellness company would treat her for all of the health problems she was experiencing, not just her EOE. And that’s what happened.
What was different with her treatment at Parsley Health was that it wasn’t just pills or quick fixes but firm hand holding. Kurz had been given dietary restrictions by other doctors and was dismissed, here, she says, her doctors and health coach communicated with her, supported her, asked her for her health goals, listened and explained in detail. They also put her on an autoimmune, low-histamine diet. She was also asked to manage her stress. Naturally, she improved.
The Cat And Mouse Chase of HealthCare
Kurz had been stuck in the maze of endless subscriptions and pills. The impersonal healthcare that she had got used to had missed the root cause by a long shot. Parsley’s concept of customized healthcare, its team of doctors and health coaches operating as personal cheerleaders, was obviously attractive.
But this kind of treatment and involvement requires money, and not all of it is covered by insurance. While Parsley Health doesn’t accept insurance, it says that one can submit receipts to be reimbursed if the policy covers “out of network services”. Parsley’s lab managers, too, provide a superbill that could be reimbursed. But CEO Berin’s argument for the prohibitive expense is simple. People spend hundreds on spinning classes to lose weight when they might actually have a thyroid problem.
However, she also maintains, that “You shouldn’t pay me to see me for more hours; you should pay to get better.” But Parsley’s refund and return policy do not reflect that philosophy. Its ‘common questions’ say that if a person from the complete care plan comes for the initial visit and then decides to cancel, s/he effectively can’t. The membership is locked for six months and after six months, the person can cancel by paying a cancellation fees of $500!
While its main aim of offering holistic healthcare and trying to help people get off medication is laudable, it is only meant for those who can afford both a comprehensive insurance plan and an additional primary health care plan.
Parsley Health is also not the only primary care wellness practice. Many others are trying to deal with the morass that is the U.S. healthcare in different ways. Like Forward which offers 3D body scans followed by 90-minute appointments with doctors at the mall.
But the startup is, albeit in a miniscule way, realizing what Edison said,”The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame…”