The Changing Face of Healthcare: Why Boutique Wellness Services Are the Future of Medicine
With some of the best doctors, world-renowned hospitals and most sophisticated medical advances in the world, the U.S. has a global reputation of being at the forefront of cutting-edge healthcare. More and more, however, healthcare has become a political lightning rod, with Americans unable to afford basic care or struggling to obtain access to specialized medicine. For women, the reality is even graver: Often on the receiving end of implicit bias from doctors, they may be misdiagnosed or presented with a delayed diagnosis that can result in unnecessary complications. Now, some women are taking matters into their own hands and fighting for a healthier future. From boutique, whole-person medical services to more accessible fertility care, the changing face of healthcare looks better, brighter and—best of all—beneficial to women.
Taking a Back Seat
For decades, dismissive interactions with doctors have left women feeling silenced, frustrated and worse, sick. American women have the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, are less likely than men to receive pain medicine in the emergency room and are often told they are “stressed,” not sick. This leads to ongoing health issues for women, and can have dire consequences: In the U.S. alone, 40,000 to 80,000 people die every year from being misdiagnosed.
The roots of this bias run deep: Female “hysteria”—the once commonly held belief that women’s illnesses were tied to their nerves, and their nerves were tied to their uterus—was a blanket diagnosis for symptoms running the gamut from insomnia, sexual desire, loss of sexual desire, irritability or rebellion.
Today, we continue to use the word hysterectomy to describe the surgical removal of the uterus, and the etymology lives on: hysterical is derived the Latin hystericus (“of the womb”); -ectomy is from the ancient Greek ektomia, or “cutting out of.” And while women no longer receive the diagnosis of hysteria, the fact that their physical symptoms are often dismissed as “just stress”—by both male and female doctors—is not only disheartening, but it’s also dangerous.
Putting Patients First
As women become more frustrated with the care they’ve received from their doctors and more disillusioned with the insurance companies purporting to cover them in their times of need, they are turning to alternative healthcare and wellness practices to fill in the gaps—or to meet their healthcare needs entirely. This wave of wellness seekers has led to groundswell of new boutique health services looking to disrupt the current healthcare system by providing comprehensive care that doesn’t leave women feeling dismissed or alienated.
“Women’s health has taken a back seat in medicine and in our culture for far too long,” says Dr. Fahimeh Sasan of Kindbody, a newly launched fertility and healthcare company. “We believe women deserve better! Healthcare is currently bifurcated and siloed, but it doesn’t have to be. Our objective is to reinvent the existing healthcare delivery model by providing a continuum of care: a true vertical integration of all women’s healthcare needs.”
Founded by Gina Bartasi, New York-based Kindbody wants to address the needs of women seeking fertility care who are exhausted by the current medical establishment and the care they’ve been receiving. By “reinventing healthcare for the modern woman,” Kindbody is creating not only beautiful spaces for today’s wellness connoisseur, but it’s also opening doors in accessible, convenient locations for the busy lifestyles of its patients.
“Too often, patients undergoing fertility treatments feel treated like a ‘sick person,’” says Dr. Sasan, “which just increases the barriers to receiving the care they need. We’re coupling the boutique environment with best-in-class technology, and accessible pricing.”
Parsley Health, a subscription-based healthcare company for women and men with services in New York, LA and San Francisco, is also enacting changes to the healthcare industry. By offering direct-to-consumer care through subscription-based payments, Parsley bypasses insurance companies or middle men who may dictate what care will be covered. Instead, the path of care can be determined by the doctor and the patient directly. Often, traditional office visits are required in order to refill prescriptions. Not so at Parsley, where a mobile platform can be used to secure refills—and avoid a bill for an office visit.
And how are boutique health services being received? “Women are the early adopters, and that’s not surprising,” says Parsley Health founder Dr. Robin Berzin. “They’re the ones who take care of themselves and their families.” In fact, according to Parsley, women drive 80 percent of healthcare spending in the U.S.
The New Wave in Healthcare Costs
The democratization of healthcare may seem at odds with paying out of pocket for a subscription-based service. But with the skyrocketing costs of the American medical system, one can hardly argue that by continuing to rely on standard care, we’ve arrived at a one-size-fits-all healthcare solution. This is what boutique health services want to address: cost of care; comprehensive, long-term care; and cutting edge solutions that are discussed in-depth during doctor/patient visits.
“One of our primary missions at Kindbody is to improve access to fertility and women’s health care by lowering costs,” Dr. Sasan says. “We know these treatments are inaccessible to most today. We believe most clinical practices in the community setting are operating inefficiently, and there’s lots of fat in the system—rows of nurses on the phones, paper charts, etc. There’s lots of low hanging fruit when you run a practice like a business.”
She continues, “We also believe specialty providers should be used at the ‘top’ of their license, shifting care to lower cost providers where possible. For example, REIs (fertility specialists) are required for procedures, but gynecologists can do much of the workup and monitoring. A continuum of care also ensures patients are getting duplicate bloodwork or exams across a variety of providers. Additionally, we believe the trend of self-insured employers covering this care while continue to increase as payer changes happen far too slowly or ineffectively.”
By making “comprehensive and effective primary care more affordable with a membership-based system,” Parsley Health believes it’s taking a step in the right direction as well: A membership at Parsley averages less than $5 a day.
As they disrupt the current systems and seek to improve American healthcare, both Parsley Health and Kindbody are marrying meaningful, face-to-face doctor visits with technology to empower their patients to take charge, and keep on top of, their health.
According to Parsley, most doctors give patients an average of 11 seconds to describe their symptoms. To combat this, Parsley subscribes to a whole-human view: By addressing the root cause of disease, healing can then begin. Using a first-ever proprietary system called Parsley Symptom Index (PSI), Parsley doctors utilize a 10-body system tracker for patients under 65 years old—“a necessity,” according to Parsley, because “70 percent of disease is chronic and lifestyle driven.”
Parsley members are entitled to five doctor visits annually; before each visit with either the doctor or a health coach, the PSI adds “thousands of data points to the patient’s charts, enabling [our] health teams to optimize patient’s personalized health plans and change track if improvements aren’t coming quickly enough,” according to the Parsley team. With this advanced testing and data output, Parsley is hoping the PSI serves as a control to negate unconscious bias that patients—in particular, women—may encounter at the doctor’s office. The data forces doctors to look at the root cause of an issue, instead of dismissing it.
Technology also plays a large role in Kindbody’s approach to fertility and wellness care. “We are using technology to break the current patriarchal medical system by sharing with women their medical results through clear and easy to understand patient portals, allowing patients to ask questions in person and from the comfort of their home via telemedicine consultation,” says Dr. Sasan. “Our goal is to make women feel like true decision making partners with their clinicians.”
The idea of a partnership with one’s physician may seem like a foreign concept for anyone who has been pushed through the system or rushed through a 10-minute appointment, but it’s something these companies recognize as crucial to improving the health of their patients.
Kindbody is seeking to dismantle what it perceives as the fragmentation of care in women’s medicine. Dr. Sasan elaborates, saying that, “currently women see their OB/GYN in one place, then get referred to a completely separate fertility specialist. They may go back and forth as they get pregnant and miscarry, or return for another child. The two areas of women’s health are completely bifurcated, and the woman are left to put the pieces together at a frightening and often anxiety-provoking time in their life. Not to mention the silos of mental health therapists and nutritionists. Kindbody solves for this by putting the gyn care, fertility care, wellness in the same cohesive practice so that the care is seamless.”
And, because Kindbody recognizes that women have needs beyond typical office hours, they’re working to extend care beyond 5 p.m. “Kindbody is utilizing technology to build easy to access and understand patient portals that allow patients to make an appointment online, contact their provider with questions 24/7, and see their results with detailed explanations, in a format that they can interpret,” says Dr. Sasan. “We also feel women should know all their options so they can make their own educated decisions, the current patriarchal system funnels women through the fertility system like cattle.”
Forging the Future of Healthcare
With so much at stake when it comes to women’s health, it can be daunting to think about the future. But both Parsley Health and Kindbody are doing just that—and their teams are excited by what they envision.
“We are most excited that Kindbody is de-stigmatizing the conversation and giving women choice. (You just need to attend one of our mobile fertility pop-ups to see how grateful women are that we are here to talk about this in such an approachable way!),” says Dr. Sasan. “Women’s health, and in particular fertility, are things that women simply do not talk about, and if they do, it’s typically behind closed doors and surrounded by an atmosphere of shame. Our mission is to de-stigmatize the fertility discussion and make women feel educated, empowered and confident to discuss their issues and make their own choices. Whether it’s the decision to electively freeze your eggs, a LGBT couple seeking pregnancy, or a woman facing years of fertility issues, it’s time to bring it out in the open, let women know they are NOT alone, and that we are here to listen, help and achieve the outcome that is right for them!”
For Parsley Health, providing more educational online content and opening more clinics around the country is an opportunity to reach more patients and to help them live to their healthiest potential. Even more exciting to those seeking better care, but battling financial constraints? Parsley has just launched its first-ever scholarship program, making boutique healthcare a possibility at the click of a button.
As healthcare in the U.S. continues to be at the forefront of political debates, companies like these are addressing the needs of women in real time–without rushing, or dismissing them, in the process.
Excited about the future of medicine? Meet this woman who’s also committed to changing the face of healthcare.
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