We talked with CEO and Founder of Parsley Health, Dr. Robin Berzin about the radically updated primary care experience and why sleep is so vital to long-term health.
At what point in your career did you decide to start investing in your own ideas and bring forth a new wave of health care?
When I was in residency, I saw just how many things were flawed about our current healthcare system. Patient visits were only about 15 minutes and I was constantly printing out prescription and after prescription for people—even though I knew that most of their conditions could be helped through nutrition and lifestyle changes. There has to be a better way, I told myself. Later, I went on to work in a clinic that approached care more holistically, the way I believed in. But it wasn’t accessible to most people - it was incredibly expensive, so expensive that I couldn’t have afforded myself! - and there was no technology making it streamlined or easy to use. So I started to formulate the idea that would become Parsley Health.
What do you think is the biggest downfall of conventional primary care?
There are many wonderful conventional primary care doctors, but the health care system itself makes it difficult for them to practice in a way that is aligned with the needs of today’s patients. Today, 90% of disease costs are due to chronic lifestyle driven diseases. From heart disease to diabetes to infertility, to autoimmune, mental health and gastrointestinal conditions, nutrition, mental health and environmental factors are the big drivers. For example, no one has a deficiency in a high blood pressure medication - rather, high blood pressure is caused by diet, inactivity, stress, and poor sleep as well as sometimes other chronic diseases. But assessing and addressing these core root-cause drivers of health takes time and a more advanced approach that looks at the body as a physiologically complex interconnected ecosystem. Unfortunately because of the way primary care is typically paid for by the system, many primary care services are have been reduced to rushed visits that result in a prescription drug 75% of encounters and that drive a lot of referrals to expensive specialists. As a result our health care costs go up and as a population we are getting sicker. As patient and doctors we deserve a lot more from primary care.
How has Parsley Health become the new and evolved version of primary care?
At Parsley Health we have radically redefined primary care. First, our board-certified doctors are not only trained in internal medicine, family medicine or pediatrics at top universities, they are additionally trained in an evidence-based holistic approach called functional medicine, which means they are equipped to prescribe personalized nutrition, sleep, fitness, supplement and mental health protocols in addition to prescription drugs. They are also trained to interpret advanced diagnostic tests that look at genetics, the microbiome, hormones inflammation and toxins. Our testing is far more in depth enabling us to really understand your whole health.
Second, we spend time with you and form a real authentic relationship. Our annual membership means our members get access to their doctor and their health team 365 days a year online and any visit can be via video. Our members love the unlimited access and convenience. There’s no waiting 3 weeks for an appointment to get a refill or an answer to a question, or even get a prescription for something you need that’s new. We handle that all online. When you do need a visit your average visit with your doctor is 50 minutes (that is compared to 15 minutes with the average PCP).
Third, our service includes so much more than medical care. We include personal health coaching with top nutrition and behavior change specialists, events and perks like talks on gut health, meditation classes and discounts on everything from yoga classes to the latest wearable tech like the Oura Ring. Our members see us as more than their doctor - we are their guide for all aspects of health and wellness, from what to eat to what products to buy to which specialists to see.
Finally, our technology makes it seamless to work with us. Our focus on outcomes and results in unparalleled. We reduce chronic prescription drugs by 66% - the average person who comes in on 3 chronic medications ends up on 1 on average by the end of their first year. We help people reduce and even resolve autoimmune conditions, infertility, GI issues and metabolic syndrome over and over. No other primary care service is as focused on helping you get healthier the way we are.
Supplements are trending right now. What is your take on them?
Supplements can be powerful therapeutic tools just as medications are and can be part of our treatment plan if a member will benefit from them, but the big problem with the supplement business right now is how unregulated it is. Most of what you buy at the grocery store doesn’t contain what it says it does, or doesn’t contain sufficient quantities or potencies of the active ingredient to be truly effective. But worse, many generic supplements may also contain harmful ingredients like heavy metals, or allergens like gluten or soy. At Parsley Health, we prescribe professional grade supplements - this means they are available through licensed providers, and are made by companies that manufacture supplements in pharmaceutical-grade facilities and that offer 3rd party testing of their products for validation. When we do recommend supplements it is a targeted reason and we track results both through diagnostic testing and symptom improvement. Just like a drug a supplement has to have a purpose and drive results.
How important is sleep for you in your chosen field and what are some of the benefits you see from being well rested?
Sleep isn’t just an important part of my life, it’s something I talk all of my members at Parsley Health about. Research has shown sleep deprivation can increase your risk of everything from heart disease and stroke to Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes, so sleeping well sets you up for long term health. Quality sleep (I’m talking 7-8 hours with a bedtime of around 10 p.m.), helps your body and brain to physically recover from the day—your central nervous system resumes normal function, blood gets redirected to your muscles to help with repair, and your energy stores replete. I’m loving the book Why We Sleep right now, and we are always updating our sleep protocols at Parsley with the latest research. As I say to my patients, if you’re not sleeping we can do everything else right but we won’t achieve our goals.
6. What does your wind down routine look like after a day at work?
I try to get to bed by 10 p.m., because the body repairs best between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. I’ll start to wind down around 30 minutes prior, avoiding electronics as much as I can and dimming the lights. About a half hour before I go to bed, I also take around 200 mg of magnesium glycinate. This is the most absorbed form of magnesium and acts as a gentle natural calcium channel blocker, reducing excitatory nerve impulses (think my busy brain!) and relaxes tight muscles.
What are your goals for the expansion of Parsley Health and beyond?
Our mission is to bring our cutting-edge, holistic and personalized approach to primary care to people across America. We’ve created something really powerful that transforms health and puts individuals in the driver’s seat when it comes to their bodies. Everyone deserves this kind of doctor. We’re expanding physically, with our California flagship center opening this fall in Los Angeles, and look forward to connecting with more communities beyond NYC, LA and SF in the year ahead.
What is your advice for living your best and healthiest life?
My own personal mantra is “When you take care of your body, you unlock your life.” I’ve seen it in thousands of patients, but most of all myself. This body is the only vehicle you will have for life. When you listen to it, tap into what it’s telling you, take care of it, get interested in it, and invest in giving it the things it needs to heal - real whole foods, quality sleep, sweat and movement, relaxation and stress reduction and time in nature - it will create vitality and resilience. Now sometimes it’s more complicated and that’s where testing and prescriptions from a knowledgeable guide like a Parsley doctor come in but the results are amazing. When your body is healthy your perspective, creativity, productivity and ability to reach your potential transform.