Photo and site: Jay Parkinson, MD, MPH
I didn’t have much trouble tracking down Jay Parkinson. He’s ubiquitous for a guy whose medical practice is just a few weeks old. He’s been interviewed many times, has a blog, and apparently is coming soon to a TV near you, all because of his Medicine 2.0 – which is actually Medicine 1920s – making house calls, charging reasonable cash prices, and being available whenever his patients need him, all in the hip Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.
He insists that it’s not about the technology, which in his case is the PC tools everybody else uses (Google apps, e-mail, IM, etc.) He doesn’t even use an EMR system any more, having given it up because it didn’t meet his needs. So, the lessons to learn from Jay aren’t about use of cool technology, but more about practicing medicine the way he wants, addressing some of the challenges of the healthcare system along the way.
Tell me about your background and your practice.
I’m a 31-year old male. [laughs] I practice in New York City, mostly in Williamsburg and Brooklyn. I started the practice September 24 after two residencies, the first one in pediatrics at St. Vincent’s Hospital here in the West Village and the second one in preventive medicine at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Seems like it’s going pretty well for me.
Most people associate house calls with country doctors carrying little black bags, but you’re in New York City.
I still have my black bag that I carry. Just getting around the city is next to nothing. You take the subway, walk, or take the bus. In the near future, I’ll be buying a scooter so I can scoot around. Hopefully I can keep every house that I visit within a 15-minute travel time.
Describe a typical patient encounter.
It’s great because they submit all their information ahead of time, so I pretty much know what’s going on prior to the meeting. I know what to talk about, what points to hit, what things I can skip over that other physicians would concentrate on and waste time on. They spend 10-15 minutes giving me all their health information via an online form. It’s very streamlined, but I still spend about an hour and a half per visit, talking to them, having them show me their art work. It’s very laid back.
I’m not a very formal person. Everybody that I’ve seen has really enjoyed seeing their doctor rather than being in some sterile, foreign environment that everybody knows and loves as a doctor’s office.
What’s it like making house calls and what do you learn that an office-based doctor wouldn’t?
Somebody has asthma, maybe lives in a dirty warehouse loft, I can pick up the fact that it’s pretty friggin’ dusty or has mice. It just gives you a feeling for who somebody is. You can tell a lot by how they live, more from a mental health perspective. The United States is a pretty clean place so we don’t have a lot of sanitation issues or something, but it gives you a more full picture about the person.
What technology do you use to run your practice?
It’s very basic, freely available technology. I have a Macbook and an iPhone. IM programs, like ATM and iChat for the Mac. I just use regular e-mail, Gmail in fact, because it’s very powerful.
I use a website called Formspring for my online forms. It’s very simply drag and drop forms creation. Any form can be made in three minutes or so. It uses skip branch logic, so questions can appear or disappear based on responses to previous questions. I use that to get another diagnosis through a careful history, because an early question is a branch in the algorithm for proper history taking. I think it’s safer because doctors aren’t perfect and sometimes they forget to ask very important questions about something rare. If I can spend time asking these questions beforehand, I don’t have to be worried about always thinking about every little thing during my interview session with the patient.
I saw on the Web that you use the Life Record medical record system. Tell me how you chose it and how it works for you.
Actually, I have abandoned that, simply because it’s not very customizable and I thought it was going to be. So, I’ve abandoned that. But, I was fascinated by it because it has a lot of features that I think would be very valuable for a traditional office-based practice with multiple practitioners. Having access to records by iPhone on a Friday night at dinner is vital in some circumstances.
Now I use Apple’s version of Excel called Apple Numbers and have created templates for nearly every condition that I have. I can use them for a physical exam or generating an invoice. It’s really just using Apple’s iCal for scheduling synced to Gmail’s calendar. iCal and Gmail and iPhone are all updated at the same time in real time. It’s pretty basic stuff.
You’re an iPhone fan, I hear.
I love the iPhone. I think that’s amazing. Hopefully I will be able to put Apple’s Number files on my iPhone. I think they’re coming out in with developer’s kit for iPhone in February and I’ll be able to use my iPhone a little more intensely. I could only get to my records by iPhone with Life Record. He’s a great guy, the guy that developed it, and I’m sorry it isn’t specific for what I need.
When it comes to technology, you seem to be a geek, but you deal with artists and are one heck of a photographer. Where do you fall on the geek-doctor-artist continuum?
I’m definitely fairly geeky, I guess. I really like technology and gadgets. Right after the iPhone came out, I wasn’t going to wait in line forever down in Baltimore. I’m all things Apple. I did the iPod first day it was announced years ago. I designed my own website and can do programming. I don’t know CSS or anything like that. I’m not trained in any technology, I just kind of figured it out on my own.
You charge $200 a house call. Do patients find that competitive and can you make a decent living at that price?
Sure. Look, I have no overhead whatsoever. If I charge $200 a visit, $195 of that is straight profit. I think that’s a pretty good living. If I see eight patients a day, that’s $1600. Without having staff, an office, billers … it becomes a very easily doable practice. I definitely designed the business model looking at that. The concept of doing the housecall was a way to open a practice without putting $300,000 upfront. I started this whole thing for less than $1,500.
Would your med school classmates think this is weird, or are they looking for more satisfying practice models too?
Everybody that I’ve trained with has been extremely supportive. I just got done with an interview for the London Times. Obviously there’s something interesting about what I’m doing since now I’m making international news.
What I’ve created, not to toot my own horn, is pretty ingenious. It’s a Band-Aid to a gaping wound in a lot of ways, the fiasco that is the American healthcare system. 50 million people without health insurance – there are a lot of voices behind what I’m trying to do. I’m doing a good job, I guess, getting the word out about the plight of the uninsured and also seeing patients at the same time.
A few people have mentioned security and privacy issues because of the technology I use, but because I don’t deal with insurance companies and don’t submit any patient health information online to insurance companies or Medicare or Medicaid, I don’t have to follow HIPAA regulations. I’m considered a country doctor, which is kind of interesting.
On your website, you talk about how you search the market to find the lowest fees for specialists and other medical services you can’t provide directly. How do you do that and what interesting stuff have you found as a result?
It will blow your mind what I found out. I graduated residency June 30th. Since then, between June 30 and September 24, there’s a good three months where that was what I was doing, finding accurate contact info for physicians in New York City and calling them up and asking what they charge, putting the information into a database. A mammogram ranges from $175 to $750, both of them amazing facilities, but nobody’s regulating healthcare prices.
Also, there’s widespread belief in the healthcare industry that they shouldn’t be competing for cash-paying patients because there’s so few of them. 50 million isn’t that few at all, but there’s no free market in the healthcare industry. The vast number of people have health insurance and doctors aren’t competing for their business at all. Its so funny, when I tell radiologists or pharmacists or anyone who stands to benefit from me referring my cash-paying customers to, it’s laughable how they kiss my ass to try to get my business.
The ultimate goal here is to create more transparency in the healthcare pricing scheme. I’m trying to create that transparency on my own because the healthcare industry won’t do it because they profit from that.
How would you compare what you do with the retail clinics that are springing up everywhere?
Most of the time, it’s simply a profit-driven marketing scheme. I’m personalized service. You call me up, I go to your home, physically examine you, follow up by IM or e-mail or text messaging. I get to know you as a person. I’m not remotely competing with retail clinics at all. People who go there want something different than I provide.
From your viewpoint, what’s the most wrong and most right about the US healthcare system?
It depends on who we’re talking about. Older people and very poor people, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it whatsoever. For people who have insurance, there’s not much wrong. People who don’t have insurance because they’re young and healthy and priced out of paying an average $10,000 here in New York for an HMO, there’s a lot wrong. It really just depends on who you’re talking about. It’s hard to generalize that way.
My patients are people who are concerned about having or not having health insurance. New York State has policies that ensures that everyone pays the same for health insurance. That’s great for sick and old people, but young people can’t justify spending $9,500 when they only make $45,000. That to me is a significant problem for the uninsured in New York State. It’s a great solution if you’re old and sick.
You just started this practice and here you are, four or five weeks later, you’re in newspapers and on TV. You mentioned in an interview that you’re getting unbelievable offers to do TV and books. What’s coming your way?
You name it, I’ve gotten it. It’s pretty insane. Keep your eye out, probably next fall, for a TV series from a producer of movies that the whole world has seen, She’s getting back into an original series. I’m starting to write with her in a week and we’re going to start developing a TV series together, not a reality series. The major networks are interested in this concept. We’re developing it so it appeals to everybody, but it deals with the healthcare issues that are afflicting America. That’s in the works.
I got a book offer on Monday, so I’ll be writing a book about the healthcare industry using examples from my life and practice. The London Times was today. I’ll be doing a big talk show soon and Steven Colbert on November 12. It’s kind of insane. They’re all coming to me. I don’t have a PR person. I’m doing everything myself. I haven’t put out a single press release.
Is is scary that people want you to comment on an industry that you’re brand new to?
No, not at all. Sure, I don’t have experience in private practice dealing with insurance companies, but I’ve worked and talked about the healthcare system for years, getting my master’s in public health. I worked with Sidney Wolfe in Public Citizen’s Health Research, Ralph Nader’s consumer watchdog group in DC. I’ve worked at the Maryland state department of health level. I worked with National Association of Firefighters as their medical consultant. I’ve done a lot.
I’m not like a normal doctor who finished a residency and sees patients. I intensely studied the healthcare system and figured out its strengths and deficiencies. I spent the last three months at Hopkins on quality of patient care, studying quality in the American healthcare system. Doing Six Sigma and Lean Kaizen in various departments in Johns Hopkins, trying to figure out where the patient problems lie, problems with reimbursement and unsafe practices that lead to poor outcomes. I’m not worried about being a spokesperson.
Do you think you’ll keep practicing with all these offers?
I wouldn’t mind doing part-time for both. One thing I don’t want to be is part of the industry. I’ve got plenty of offers to join companies and form alliances, but then you become part of the problem, like most doctors. The practice of medicine is very conservative and appeals to a conservative type of person. They don’t really teach you to think outside the box. They try to prohibit you from thinking outside the box.
A lot of people are getting hung up on the “doctor who makes house calls.” Really, there’s no difference in seeing a patient in their homes instead of in the office. I don’t have a laboratory, so I can’t do rapid strep tests. It’s a little difficult to do male urethral swabs, stuff like that. Female exams, I just don’t do, but I refer to someone.
There’s really no difference between a house call environment and an office environment. I draw blood as I need it and a car comes up and picks it up outside my apartment door each night. To me, it was just a business model to start a practice on the cheap. People are also hung up on the technology, but it’s the stuff that everybody uses in every other industry in America. It’s just not being used to communicate with doctors.
Most doctors don’t even want to get patient e-mails.
Congress just passed a 10% Medicare reduction on to physicians yesterday. The only way doctors are making money these days is volume. If you see 30 patients a day, at 6:00 you go to your computer and there’s 30 e-mails, God, I can’t charge for these just yet. Why would I entertain the possibility of receiving e-mails from my patients? I understand why doctors are averse to that.
The way I treat patients, I can see six to eight patients a day, and as I’m traveling, I can answer e-mails. I’ll receive forms in my e-mail from patients who want to see me in the next hour if I’m not busy. With an iPhone and a Macbook, its ridiculously easy to keep track of everything.
You obviously love New York.
I’m a big fan. It’s the center of human culture. Everything is right here. If you want to go see this really obscure movie, it’s playing down the street. If you want to see this amazing photography by the best photographer in world of all time, it’s coming to town next week.
A woman was visiting me from Ireland and said something that describes New York as a summary. She said, “The one thing I love about New York is that the answer to every question is yes. It might cost some money, but the answer is yes.” She asked if I’d been to Ireland and I said no. She said the answer to every question in Ireland is either no or maybe.
The architecture and infrastructure here is just awesome. You don’t have to have a car.
Will you stay there or go Hollywood? You could leave your practice after one month and be in the public eye constantly if you wanted, doing stuff that people only dream of.
I’m not to going to go Hollywood, at least not yet. It seems that way, doesn’t it? We’ll see what happens. If I can start some sort of system … I have ideas and I have people backing me to create something along these lines that can benefit more than the 1,000 patients I can see here.
You could easily be rich and famous.
You should see my apartment right now. [laughs] It doesn’t look like I’m rich and famous just yet. But It’s New York, where the answer to every question is yes. The opportunities for me are endless, I think.