Jay Parkinson – Healthcare Innovator & Founder of Hello Health

Jay Parkinson - Healthcare Innovator & Founder of Hello Health

Healthcare needs a redesign. No one could agree with that more than Dr. Jay Parkinson. After completing his residency at Johns Hopkins, he started a medical practice called Hello Health, based in a small office in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The basic idea was to use the way we all communicate everyday to interact with patients. On Hello Health’s website patients can schedule appointments using the Google Calendar, make notes of their symptoms, and pay via PayPal.

Hi Dr. Parkinson, how are you feeling today?
I’m feeling very energized by all of these really spectacular concepts springing up everyday across the world. I’m a total information junkie and have an almost ideal stream of information coming at me via Google Reader, Twitter, emails from friends and strangers, and Tumblr. Scores of people have really rallied around re-imagining healthcare. Add up all these people, all of this innovation happening throughout the world, and my passion to truly change healthcare for the better, and my life starts to look kind of awesome.

The Hello Health practice in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Awesome yellow house-call transportation.

The Hello Health practice in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Awesome yellow house-call transportation.

You have been an advocate for health care reform since you started your practice, do you think the proposed health care reform bill will fix the problems with our broken system?
Democracy is the best system to maintain the status quo. Combine that with all of the political and lobbying shenanigans designed to maintain current levels of profitability and we’ll quickly see that reforming healthcare will not be a top-down revolution. Consumers must start banding together to demand a better healthcare experience. I personally think that reform starts with us, not Washington.

The Hello Health office in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The Hello Health office in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Yes, I think Margaret Meade said it best: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” You are a big believer in Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation when it comes to health care reform, but creating meaningful change in this industry seems harder than refreezing icebergs? Can it be done?
I think it can absolutely be done! However, it’s interesting how I think it will be done. Here’s the deal. Ten percent of people consume 80% of the $2.5 trillion spent on healthcare every year in America. That means 90% of people spend 20%. It’s in this population (90% of Americans!) that you can truly innovate — it can potentially be the cash market of healthcare. The insurance industry, Medicare, Medicaid… they are far from innovative. They haven’t actively innovated new ways to pay doctors and deliver healthcare since the 1970s. So you can’t play with them. In order to truly innovate, you have to provide a service designed to deliver a better experience at a much more affordable price than the traditional healthcare market. That’s my goal for the next few years — design services, products, and business models to foster a burgeoning cash market for healthcare.

Using clever marketing, and by speaking to people on their level, Hello Health was able to quickly garner a lot of positive attention.

Using clever marketing, and by speaking to people on their level, Hello Health was able to quickly garner a lot of positive attention.

And despite that $2.5 trillion the U.S. spends on healthcare each year (by far the most in the world), we have one of the unhealthiest populations in the developed world. Why do you think that is?
The US has the best healthcare someone else can buy. We, as patients, aren’t the customer of healthcare. Insurance companies pay for our healthcare. Therefore, hospitals, doctors, pharmacies, etc. cater to them. All of the main players in healthcare have figured out highly efficient ways to maximize their own profits. Unfortunately, they don’t function like a true system. When things don’t function like a true system, chaos ensues. The amount of money we spend on healthcare in America is a direct result of this healthcare delivery chaos. And we all suffer because we have a healthcare “industry” rather than a healthcare “system.”

I’m a big advocate of whole foods and proper nutrition, so much of our poor health could be fixed by simply eating less and better food. Do you advise your patients to start looking at the way they eat?
First of all, I no longer see patients. I stopped seeing patients about a year and a half ago. I still practice medicine. It’s just a different kind of practice. I now treat populations of people by creating new services and processes that improve access and communication between doctors and their patients. But, yes, of course. I recommend reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and implement his philosophy into your lifestyle.

Yeah, I’m a big Pollan fan too. I can’t wait to see what great stuff you come up with next. What started as a small practice for you has quickly turned into a network of practitioners, what brings people to Hello Health?
Its pretty simple. Freedom. Both doctors and patients feel shackled by the complexity and hassles of American healthcare. If you simply design a better process and a better experience for both of the most important parties of healthcare — doctors and patients — I strongly believe more and more people will want something better. It just makes sense.

During the health care debate there has been a lot of talk of how much money Doctors make in this country, and how we would have to pay them less if we would convert to a public option. How did you decide you wanted to become a Doctor? Was it a calling or a career move?
I decided to be a doctor when I was a freshman in college. Like almost all doctors, we just want to help people and leave our mark in this world. But once I became a pediatric resident and lived the life of a doctor, I quickly realized that practicing medicine was far from optimal. When I’m placed in a situation of laughable inefficiency, it’s in my nature to try and solve those problems. So I did a second residency in Preventive Medicine and got my Masters in Public Health. Preventive Medicine is more like public health, designing and implementing the back-end stuff that improves the health of a population of people. I had no idea what I was going to do upon completing that second residency, but I spent a few months designing a totally re-imagined old-fashioned doctor’s practice, but updated for the 21st century. And then I struck out on my own to see what would happen. It was terrifying having no income and depending on word of mouth and the blogosphere to get the word out about my initial practice. But it worked out because I decided to think differently. And I couldn’t be happier with where I am right now in my life. So, to answer your question, I think it was a calling to make a career move to re-imagine healthcare.

Dr. Jay Parkinson couldn't be happier with where he is in life right now.

Dr. Jay Parkinson couldn’t be happier with where he is in life right now.

Awesome. And you started your practice with only $1500 in your pocket, but was instantly able to get a lot of press and attention which, as we can see today, resulted in great success. How were you able to do that? Do you have any advice for people out there with great disruptive ideas but very little money?
I think I was successful because it was a good idea! Also, I wasn’t afraid to be different. I wasn’t afraid to defend my ideas. And I responded to almost all the people who reached out to me. Nobody can ever do anything really well all by themselves, so it’s about relationships. It’s about good communication and meaningful networking. But here’s my advice. Keep it simple! Minimize overhead. Develop things to solve simple problems, optimize those processes, and then move to more complex ones. Partner with other disruptors. Form a network of disruption.

I think that having unwavering faith in a good idea is the key to any form of success. But changing the world is hard work, what do you do in your spare time?
I haven’t turned on my stove since January 2008. It’s totally relaxing for me to go out to all these tasty restaurants in Williamsburg, become a regular, and be friends with as many people as I can. I do a ton of reading. I’m pretty much an internet geek, so I’m always pouring through all the good stuff on the net. I’m also a decent photographer, so I try to do as much of that as I can, but living in NYC isn’t conducive to my style of photography. I do a lot of gallery hopping to check out some photography shows. I ride my bike. I have probably the best dog in the world, a golden doodle named Buddy. Every weekend, we walk across the Williamsburg Bridge. I have a huge backyard with a garden, a fish pond, and amazing neighbors. I guess I can just say I explore and live life as best I can.

What does the Good Life mean to you?
The Good Life is living an experience of freedom, love, and curiosity.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
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