Billyburg "Hipster" Doc Does IM Consults for Now People

"The doctor is in -- and hip!" Meet Dr. Jay Parkinson, the "chief imagineer" of Hello Health, a clinic in "the East Coast hipster locus," i.e. Williamsburg, targeting "day’s Internet-savvy, Web-connected, club-hopping, yet entirely unhealthy hipsters."

According to Jessica Firger at the Brooklyn Paper, Dr. Jay wears a "pink button-down shirt and trim designer jeans," has colleagues named Sean and Devlyn, and "looks like a dot-comer adept at HTML or an agent from Corcoran..."

Much of what we learn about Dr. Parkinson and Hello Health is more marketing than medicine, and kind of annoying. But some of the ways they provide services are pretty interesting.

Hello Health has a membership plan for which customers pay a subscription fee -- sort of like AppleCare. The reporter also claims "there isn't a waiting room -- because there's no wait" and that "To Parkinson, customer service is almost as important as medical science." In fact, Parkinson tells Firger, "I’d rather study the Apple Store or Whole Foods to see what’s working" -- rather than other medical practices, we assume.

Making the medical experience cozier is not out of the question or even out of the ordinary -- hospital designers have been making more patient-friendly facilities for years. But Dr. Parkinson is pushing the envelope in other ways. Hello Health makes house calls, and if that's not convenient enough, "E-mail, video or even IM consultations start at $50 a session."

The Hello Health website further explains: "Maybe you just have a quick question, need a prescription refilled, or want a quick follow-up on your last visit. We’d be happy to sit down with you online, through email, instant message, text or video chat."

Telemedicine is nothing new, and such AMA-approved outlets as Medem have been providing it for years. But e-mail consultations, as this 2008 Biomed paper indicates, have long been considered a low-cost alternative to FTF health care, to be used for remote locations where quality care is unavailable, or for patients who are too poor to -- well, go to a doctor.

But that's been changing. Medgadget reported in February that "A number of major insurance companies are beginning to reimburse patients for online visits with physicians" -- though even this forward-looking "internet journal of emerging medical technologies" feels compelled to add that online consulting "often makes more sense than travel, especially for the elderly and when direct observation and tests are not necessary."

From the looks of the rotating portraits that appear when you go to Hello Health's front page, the target audience is neither elderly nor indigent. They look young and healthy. They certainly aren't in the market for medicine by remote because they're housebound or stuck in Upper Volta. But they may be in the market for something quicker and more convenient than the old doctor-will-see-you-now routine. (One HH spokesmodel complains of "Acute Waiting Room Intolerance.")

And what better laboratory for e-mail and IM consulting than Williamsburg? We can picture a kid at Bodega, twiddling his iPhone to ask Dr. Parkinson about the rash he noticed while he was in the men's room.

“The healthcare industry is so stuck in 1994,” Dr. Parkinson told The Health Care Blog in March. “The only way they’ve used the Internet is to provide information. I look at the Internet as something that provides communication.”

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