Sherpaa Aims to Streamline Healthcare for Startups
After Jay Parkinson completed his residency at Johns Hopkins and started practicing medicine in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 2007, he set out to make doctor-patient communications as seamless as possible. His patients logged onto his Google calendar to make appointments and note their symptoms, which triggered an alert on Parkinson’s iPhone. He made house calls and took payments via PayPal. “It was about leveraging technology to make healthcare more accessible,” Parkinson says.
Now Parkinson is bringing his brand of healthcare to startups in New York via Sherpaa, the company he co-founded earlier this year to provide employees of startups with immediate access to physicians. Sherpaa has already signed up about a half-dozen clients, including NYC tech companies Tumblr, Skillshare, and Timehop. And last week, Parkinson announced on his blog that Sherpaa had raised $1.85 million from O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures, First Round Capital, and Collaborative Fund. Parkinson says the company will use the funds to boost its offerings in New York and to plot an expansion to other cities flush with startups.
Here’s how Sherpaa works: The company either recommends health plans for a new client to purchase, or it works with plans that are already in place at those companies. Sherpaa spends about 15 minutes interviewing each employee to get “a baseline” of his or her health status, Parkinson says. Sherpaa then provides all employees with around-the-clock e-mail and phone access to its on-staff “guides,” who gather information about symptoms and then point patients to the care they need.
For example, an employee who is suffering headaches might send an e-mail to his Sherpaa guide explaining his symptoms. The guide would then ask him to keep a diary of his headaches for the next week. Then the guide would call up a headache specialist who accepts his insurance and set up an appointment for him. Because he’s able to produce the diary right off the bat, he may have saved himself from having to make an extra appointment, because the doc would have most likely asked him to do such a diary before completing her assessment of his condition.
Since many of Sherpaa’s clients participate in high-deductible health plans, Sherpaa’s guides are constantly looking for ways to help patients spend less out of their pockets. And the company’s services “save employers between $1,000 and $4,000 a year,” he says.
Parkinson has devoted his career to improving the healthcare system with technology. In 2008, he co-founded Hello Health, a company that developed an electronic health records platform for physician offices. And 2010 he co-founded The Future Well, which builds health-related games, as well as loyalty and rewards programs for health companies and insurers.
Parkinson says he has always been guided by a need to fill a gaping hole in medical care. “Healthcare is a mess. When people are in a bind, they often go to the emergency room because they don’t know what to do,” he says. “It’s annoying and most importantly, expensive.” Parkinson believes that simply giving people 24/7 access to doctors can solve many of the inefficiencies in healthcare. “Seventy percent of the time, we can solve your problem over e-mail or phone,” he says.
He also believes Sherpaa can save the healthcare system money by helping inexperienced employers make the right choices. “If you’re a company of 100 people, you don’t have the expertise to spend your money wisely,” he says. “So you go to an insurance broker, they fire back a list of 30 plans, and it’s eenie-meeny-miny-moe to pick the best one. Oftentimes employers over-insure their employees.”
Sherpaa derives revenues from charging each client a monthly per-employee fee. Parkinson bootstrapped the startup prior to last week’s funding round, he says. The company currently has two salaried Sherpaa guides but plans to use the funding to expand. Parkinson Sherpaa will also boost its technology staff and embark on a “major sales push.” He says he has developed a target list of 4,000 potential clients just in New York.
Parkinson says Sherpaa will refine its model in New York City and then start planning a geographic expansion in about a year. The cities the company is eyeing include San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, DC, he says. “There are so many companies that are young and creative and get what we’re doing,” Parkinson says. “That’s our target market right now.”