Design Heals at Parsley Health’s Reimagined Medical Office

From design to doctors, a new and impressive approach to wellness

Wellness is a journey, not a destination. For some, it’s about living their best life with a chronic illness; for others, it’s simply about optimizing from a place of strength. These two types of people loosely summarize the member base at Parsley Health, a practice applying more holistic points of view to traditional healthcare. Everything from nutrition to compassion, technology, diet and design work in concert to break the molds of traditional medicine. Whether it’s sleuthing the cause of an illness or searching beyond its symptoms or leveling the doctor/patient dynamic during an office visit, Parsley’s doctors and health coaches take an active and engaged role in your wellness. Perhaps surprisingly, design is a big component of this, both in terms of their own behind-the-scenes methodologies and the spaces you visit as a member (they prefer “member” to “patient”).

While I’ve been a Parsley member for several months now, I’ve been waiting for their new NYC flagship office to open before sharing the full picture of what they’re doing, and the design philosophy behind this space is needed to complete the story.

Many of us go to the doctor infrequently, when we’re sick to the point of desperation. Patients get brief resolve during what’s most probably already the downturn of the illness, and the doctor rarely discovers more about the illness‚ or how it could have been prevented.

We have entered a new era when it comes to what we need from medicine and yet, in some ways, medicine hasn’t quite caught up

Parsley Health’s founder and CEO Dr. Robin Berzin tells us, “90% of all disease today is chronic, lifestyle-driven, lifestyle-modifiable, and 60% of American adults of any age have at least one chronic condition; over 40% have at least two. We have entered a new era when it comes to what we need from medicine and yet, in some ways, medicine hasn’t quite caught up.”

“The World Health Organization has long established that 90% of our health is socially determined,” Berzin continues. “It means that what you eat, how you move, your relationships with other people, your environment, the toxins you’re exposed to, whether or not you have positive mental health practices or not—those things are all determining 90% of your health. Only 10% is actually in any way determined by interactions with the medical system: doctors, drugs, procedures. Yet, in medicine, we only look at the 10%. So, we’re ignoring 90% of you. Parsley is here to bridge that gap.”

The doctors at Parsley get to know you—both because you visit more regularly (and hang out to grab a coffee, tea or kombucha—all of which which are free for members) and because members encouraged to provide input through detailed surveys, conversations, testing and analytics. Being a Parsley member requires a lot more of your time than being a doctor’s patient and, to get the most out of the experience, you have to be ready to put a lot in. The team will work with you to improve your health and, more broadly, life.

“You shouldn’t have to choose between a doctor who understands all of you, and the doctor who understands cutting-edge medicine. We really need them all to be in the same place,” Berzin says. “There’s research showing that a doctor who knows you can improve outcomes, reduce costs and improve satisfaction.”

The innovative approach to care isn’t the only forward-thinking plan at work for Parsley. Their space is well-designed. The office looks nothing like a traditional doctor’s office. The waiting room features an abundance of plants, the better part of a full kitchen, beautiful furniture and lighting and much more.

“Design helps to amplify all of the work we’re doing across the entire experience,” the company’s head of design Day Jiménez tells us. “You come to the space and both feel happier and healthier, but also learn from your experience while being there,” Jiménez continues. “We really want the space to impact members.”

It really amounts to making someone feel happier, healthier and comfortable. And in this state, challenging the conventions of what we have come to understand the medical space to be.

Jimenez explains that biophilia—a design philosophy that seeks to bring humans closer to nature—is a keystone of the NYC office. “It’s a set of 14 patterns that, in summary, connect humans to nature through architectural and atmospheric qualities. A couple of examples are using textures and natural materials, organic patterns, plants in the space, drawn out views of nature and things as subtle as curtains blowing in the wind,” Jiménez explains. “Some of these patterns have different relationships with the body—stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, modulating cortisol levels, lowering the heart rate. It really amounts to making someone feel happier, healthier and comfortable. And in this space, challenging the conventions of what we have come to understand the medical space to be.”

Bringing the outside world in makes the visit feel less isolating and intimidating. Natural light can make patients feel more at ease—opening them up to the idea that being at the doctor’s office doesn’t mean something is wrong, instead maybe a visit could be part of a routine that keeps them healthy, happy and comfortable.

“I realized that we were always visiting doctors across a desk, and that’s just how things have been done ever since I can remember going to the doctor,” Jiménez says. “I remember saying to Robin, ‘I think we need to get rid of the desk. We need to create an environment that encourages collaboration.'” This breakdown is empowering and combined with a harmonious aesthetic allows the member to focus on themselves over being distracted by the harshly lit, cold and clinical room of a traditional medical exam room. As one who is distracted by bad design, I found my recent health coaching visit to be incredibly productive because I could stay focused on the task at hand (instead of my mind wandering and wondering who could possibly appreciate the cacophony of color and pattern and material in the poorly laid out windowless box that was my old doctor’s office).

Parsley Health is open and accepting patients in New York, Los Angeles and San Fransisco.

Images courtesy of Parsley Health