Digital health companies have used several tactics to make physicians more accessible to consumers, including encouraging users to e-mail healthcare questions to groups of physicians and nurses such as imyourdoctor.com, askmedicaldoctor.com, and justanswer.com. Jay Parkinson, the CEO and co-founder of Sherpaa, isn’t too impressed with the trend and thinks healthcare should be delivered locally. His company is trying to help businesses reduce their employer health insurance costs.
“That’s obnoxious….Healthcare happens in your neighborhood; it’s a local problem and needs local solutions,” he said.
Sherpaa, which is currently based in New York City, takes a local approach. As part of its service it provides free 24/7 phone and e-mail access to a vetted team of primary care physicians and specialists who can help members with healthcare questions and arrange an appointment if necessary. When it does expand, it wants to do it city by city in places like San Francisco and Chicago. Parkinson said most of the queries the service gets via e-mail.
“If we are going to put our business in the hands of doctors we want to find the best. And keep in mind, we don’t need a lot of doctors — each one can handle [lots of] patients. We have no financial relationship with them. They love us; we are referring patients to them.”
It encourages small- and medium-sized companies with working-age employees to steer away from pre-paid plans in favor of pay-as-you-go plans.With that approach, whatever credits the employees don’t use can go back to the company. The company’s first customer was photo-sharing website Tumblr, which signed up in February. It recently received $1.85 million from a group of venture firms who liked its approach to reducing healthcare costs. Sherpaa makes money by charging employers for its service, per employee, per month.
Parkinson said the needs of working-aged people are different than children or elderly patients. Think gynecologists, mental health, dermatology. Although chronic diseases are an issue for this demographic, he says it’s not to the extent that it is for elderly patients. Parkinson acknowledged that some of the criticism the company gets is that its focus is on treating “the worried well.”
“We don’t need a bunch of neurosurgeons,” said Parkinson who prefers to use younger doctors who are more likely to be in tune with the demographic Sherpaa is serving. “We concentrate on making a wonderful service that people will enjoy when they are in a bind.”
When I ask if a telehealth option was in the works, I can practically hear Parkinson’s eyes roll. “Everyone uses e-mail, it’s how we communicate and I don’t see that changing very much,” he said.