The morning bustle begins at Serendipity Labs in West Greenville, where Dr. Mary Brittain Blankenship is writing a new prescription for healthcare. The 36-year-old is the founder and face of Spruce MD, an integrative medical practice tightening the bond between doctor and patient, to create general health and wellness. The Alabama native’s approach is not new in medicine, just relatively new to the Upstate, and certainly the first available in a local, cowork space. Patients have been pouring into the bright and airy office since it opened last March. They join the estimated one-third of Americans looking beyond the conventional healthcare system for healing of body, mind, and spirit.
What is integrative medicine? >> I like to describe it as a marriage between conventional medicine, still using conventional techniques, like labs, procedures, screening tools, and prescription meds, coupled with alternative medical practices. So, herbal and vitamin supplements when called for, or as a first-line of treatment—a real focus on fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle changes, before handing over a pill. It also incorporates other health specialists like acupuncturists, behavioral health specialists, and chiropractors.
You’re a primary care physician for some patients, while providing a second opinion for others. >> Spruce MD provides a more personalized approach, so we spend more time with the patients and really look at them as individuals. We’re beneficial for patients who have been in a conventional setting, but feel like they haven’t been heard—if they have a medical issue that has not been resolved with conventional treatment, and if they’re frustrated with short clinical appointments.
Some appointments last an hour, as you peel back the layers. >> A lot of patients come in with seemingly unrelated symptoms. What I enjoy is putting those puzzle pieces together, to figure out what the common root cause is. It’s super interesting. I have patients who come in with specific GI complaints, but they might also have anxiety and depression. When we figure out what’s going on with their gastrointestinal tract and treat that, they’re like, ‘Oh wow. My anxiety is really gone.’ There’s such a relationship between so many things.
Is this approach the future of medicine? >> I think it is, and it’s exciting to see. We’re in the South, which I feel is late to the table on a lot of things. But this is pretty much par for the course if you go to the West Coast. There are a ton of integrative practices there.
When did you know this was how you wanted to help people as a doctor? >> I previously worked as a hospitalist, so I was seeing a lot of patients at their end-point of disease. I saw a lot of heart failure, patients on dialysis due to kidney disorders, or kidney disease. They had massive heart attacks and were super debilitated. I realized all of this could have been prevented, if patients had just been educated about lifestyle changes specifically, and things they could have done to prevent these diseased states.
How has the response been here? >> There’s been a very positive community response from other like-minded businesses, and from patients who have referred family members. It’s exciting to see Greenville is open to this, because I think it’s a new concept, as is cash-pay care.
Speaking of cash, you offer a one-time visit fee, and then monthly memberships, with different levels of immediate access to you. >> Correct. I don’t deal with insurance. I provide superbills to patients . . . basically an itemized receipt of care, with all the diagnostic codes that they submit to their insurance company. People are very quick to purchase a gym membership, or pay for meals in a restaurant, or a Starbucks card. But they are hesitant to spend money on a physician’s visit. That’s unfortunate, because that’s the most important thing you can do for yourself. With cash-pay healthcare, you know the cost up front, you know what you’re going to get, and you know your provider is going to get to the bottom of whatever symptom you present.
Why set up shop at Serendipity Labs? >> This whole practice is reimagining what healthcare is. Why not reimagine where you can receive it? Why does it have to be a sterile, stuffy physician’s office, when it can be in a cool space where other people are working in other industries, and it’s aesthetically pleasing? I didn’t want it to seem like a traditional physician’s office, and everything was designed to go with that.
Thoughts on New Year’s resolutions? >> I think they’re a good idea because the New Year is a reset. We can rid ourselves of some of our old ways. But I think that making them too specific can be a good way to fail quickly. For instance, more broad-based goals, like eating more of a certain way, but not eliminating to the extreme, can lead to greater success.
Three lifestyle changes you’d recommend for the New Year? >> Eat more plants: fruits and vegetables. Get 7–8 hours of sleep a night. Get outside. There’s a whole field of therapy called ecotherapy. I like to prescribe my patients vitamin N: vitamin nature. Just being in nature can lower cortisol and help with stress.
For more information about Dr. Blankenship and her work, visit spruce.md.