Women We’re Watching: Robin Berzin of Parsley Health
Dr. Robin Berzin, MD, is the founder and CEO of Parsley Health, an up and coming primary care medical practice with a focus on getting to the root cause. With her background in digital technology and functional medicine, Robin is a game-changer when it comes to bringing a whole-body approach to health care to the masses. Her dedication to incorporating smart technology to wellness, track record of “prescribing” meditation before medication to members, and mission to improve the doctor-patient relationship, makes Robin a woman we’re watching.
Your background is unique in that you’re an MD who is also trained in functional medicine. Can you speak to the importance of both, and your thoughts on blending Eastern and Western medicine?
Functional medicine is less about blending Eastern and Western medicine and more about choosing the best tool to address the illness or symptom. Whereas a doctor who only had traditional MD training may prescribe a painkiller to someone with chronic pain, a doctor with functional medicine knows that the painkiller does not address the root case. A functional doctor may prescribe that ibuprofen, but they will also do in depth testing and create a personalized protocol to resolve the pain for good. In the functional paradigm, nutrition, lifestyle change, supplements and advanced diagnostic testing are as important tools as drugs and procedures.
It’s not “natural or the highway.” Rather it’s “what’s driving this process and how do we reverse it?” For example, I had a patient, a 24-year-old woman, with an autoimmune disease who had failed every major drug to suppress her condition. At Parsley Health, we did advanced diagnostic testing and eliminated foods she was allergic to. Her disease has now been in remission for three years, she is drug free, and pregnant with her first child. We totally changed the course of her health—and her life.
What urged you to eventually launch Parsley Health, bringing a whole-body approach to primary care?
When I was in residency, I watched myself and my colleagues prescribe prescription after prescription, mostly for things like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and chronic pain. I found myself frustrated by the fact that most of these conditions—90 percent according to the World Health Organization—are driven by the foods people are eating, how they move and how they manage stress.
People didn’t need more medications; they needed to change their lives. That was really eye opening for me. I knew I needed to practice medicine in a different way, but no one was practicing in the way that I believed was best: with a high-tech, root-cause, patient-centered approach that also focused on outcomes.
What do you think is missing in healthcare today and the biggest pain points for you?
One of the biggest things missing in healthcare today is the doctor-patient relationship. It simply doesn’t exist anymore because doctors are incentivized to see more patients, and primary care doctors have been all but pushed out of the equation, leaving us with a heavy focus on specialty care and hospital care, both of which are expensive, episodic and usually addressing the end stage of a disease or condition.
This reality has resulted in most doctors spending just 15 or 20 minutes with each patient. This isn’t enough time for your doctor to truly get to know you and dig into any health concerns to resolve them. That’s why at Parsley Health, your first visit with your doctor is 75 minutes.
For someone brand new to functional medicine, can you explain what it means exactly?
Functional medicine is a whole-body approach to care that focuses on getting to the root cause of your problem instead of just treating the symptom. That means, instead of band-aiding an issue with a medication, we get into what’s really causing it, then we work to improve or resolve symptoms.
So it’s about getting to the root cause. Can you explain how this works, or an example in your own life where you’ve been able to tackle a health issue from the inside out? What types of symptoms and conditions do you and your team treat?
We have thousands of patient stories showing how we have used this approach to resolve autoimmune disease, infertility, heart disease, asthma, diabetes, PCOS and more.
For example, one of our members with low thyroid function and irregular periods was told she would never get pregnant without IVF. We optimized her thyroid and her metabolism through nutritional changes, supplements and a better thyroid hormone support. She just recently had her second baby on her own—naturally, without IVF—since working with us.
Our primary areas of focus include:
- Autoimmune conditions
- Gut health/gastrointestinal disorders
- Cardio-metabolic disorders (heart disease, diabetes, weight gain)
- Hormone health for men and women
- Mental health (fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia)
- Health optimization (nutrition guidance, genetic testing, prevention)
Smarter technology is a big part of what you’re doing at Parsley, and a member can actually video call with their doctor. How does this work, and why was making the company tech-friendly important to you?
All of our members must have their first visit with their doctor in-person, so their doctor can perform a thorough physical exam. After that, members can have any visit with their doctor or health coach virtually if they choose. Many of our members prefer this because it takes less time out of their day to see their doctor and they don’t have to cancel an appointment if a busy day gets in the way.
On top of video visits, which to me are a no-brainer, we have built a data architecture that makes our medical care smarter as we use it. We have had a data scientist on staff since day one, tracking our outcomes, and we have built consumer-grade technology using our data that lets our members interact with their doctor and their health information online with a tap or a click. In addition, our members can message their doctor online at any time 365 days a year, have 24/7 access to their records, and we use a proprietary online symptom tracker we built to measure outcomes.
One of the frustrations I had when I worked in the mainstream healthcare system was that everything was so manual and outdated. We still had paper files for each patient, even though the majority of people live their lives from smartphones. That also meant that patients didn’t have access to their own medical records.
When I founded Parsley Health, I wanted technology to be built into every facet. That is the case today, and we have big plans for what that will look like tomorrow.
From changing up your diet to developing a better self-care practice, prioritizing your health can be overwhelming for some. What’s one small change most patients can benefit from when they come to Parsley, that you’d recommend for our readers?
We recommend starting a meditation practice to nearly all of our members. Meditation has been shown to drastically improve stress levels, lower cortisol and blood pressure, improve blood sugar by extension and even lower inflammation—things just about everyone needs. Stress can affect so many areas of your health, so it’s important to manage stress as part of any health plan.
Meditation may seem intimidating at first, but we tell our members to start with just five minutes a day. Our members get free access to apps like Headspace as a perk included in membership, in order to learn to meditate and help them fit meditation into their day.
What’s your vision for healthcare in the next three to five years?
I think we will eventually see healthcare start to take a more holistic view of health, because our healthcare system can’t afford to continue at this rate. Ninety percent of our annual healthcare spending is for people with chronic conditions and 60 percent of adults have at least one chronic condition, according to the CDC.
We are living ourselves sick, and our medical system isn’t addressing our needs. Physicians will need training to learn to see the body as an interconnected system and the healthcare system will need technology and data-driven approaches to help it become smarter and more efficient.
As a mom, doctor and CEO, how do you make time for your own self-care?
Self-care is essential, not a nice-to-have, especially after having a baby. If I am not energized, calm and clear, how can I lead a team or be there for my son? For me, that’s yoga class at least two or three times a week, meditation every day, even if it’s for five minutes while I walk the dogs in the morning.
It also means taking my key supplements (like B-vitamins for mood and energy and magnesium glycinate for sleep), limiting coffee to one espresso in the morning, and limiting alcohol to two or three nights a week at most. Sometimes self-care is what you say no to, as much as anything else.
What advice would you give someone looking to take charge of their health?
First, take stock. How do feel today? What’s working? What isn’t? What specific symptoms do you have, how often do they happen and how severe are they? At Parsley, we built a proprietary symptom tracker to help people capture this info and get a score, but you can do it yourself by just writing down a list.
From there, make one change—maybe eliminate sugar, or dairy for a month, or add in 10 minutes of meditation. Then each week check that symptom list. What’s changing? You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so checking in with yourself like this is incredibly empowering.
Interested in taking charge of your health? Here are five ways to bio-hack your life for better health, today.