Interview with co-founder and CMO of Sherpaa – Dr. Jay Parkinson

Dr. Jay Parkinson

Today we’re interviewing Jay Parkinson, MD, MPH, co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of Sherpaa, who was once rated one of the top 10 most creative people in health care, as well as billed the Doctor of the Future.

The inception of Dr. Parkinson’s internet-driven practice in 2007 attracted 7 million visitors to his website. This concept went on to become Hello Health, an electronic medical record that enables doctors and patients to connect in and out of the office via email, IM, and video chat.

In 2010, Dr. Parkinson co-founded The Future Well, a creative consultancy that specialized in healthcare for clients such as Sanofi, Planned Parenthood, and the National Health Service in the UK. Along with the Future Well, he ideated and designed Omnio, the most popular iPad app for physicians.

Dr. Parkinson completed residencies in pediatrics and preventive medicine at Johns Hopkins University. He has given talks on the new frontiers that technology creates for health and medical care at over 50 conferences including TED, Google’s Zeitgeist, the Clinton Global Initiative, The Aspen Institute, and Pop!Tech.

Jay is obviously an interesting guy and we want to hear what he had to say about both Sherpaa and the mHealth industry. Here’s what he had to say…

How would you pitch your company? What’s your elevator pitch?

Sherpaa connects employees directly with doctors and insurance guides online to reduce healthcare costs. Founded in 2012, Sherpaa has redefined the healthcare experience for companies and employees across the country. The company powers its medical practice in the cloud with dedicated board-certified physicians and insurance navigators. It saves time and money by solving 70 percent of issues without routing them through the traditional healthcare system; and fewer interactions with the healthcare system means greater efficiency for the individual and savings for the employer. Sherpaa currently “takes care” of more than 120 companies including Tumblr, Etsy and GLG.

What sets you apart from competitors?

Companies choose us over our competitors because we have full-time doctors on staff and use asynchronous messaging, which is much like email. It’s how we all communicate nowadays, but with a full-time doctor on the other end. We’ve actively decided against video messaging because we believe it actually faces all the same hurdles that an in-person visit does — and doesn’t do much by way of making doctor-patient communication any more beneficial for doctor or patient. Additionally, since we hire our doctors and they know their full time job is to message patients thoughtfully and effectively, we deliver a speedy, elegant experience.

We own the outcome of a medical case from beginning to the end; in comparison, most telemedicine services are limited to those simple issues that can be treated simply and don’t need follow-up. Our relationship with our customers is built on communication, accurate diagnosis, care coordination, and advocacy.

What’s your business model?

We’ve had revenue since day one as a bootstrapped company and are currently serving over 120 companies. We currently charge employers $30 a month per employee for our services that gives a 3:1 ROI. Sherpaa is free and unlimited for employees.


Can you share some numbers? How many users do you have?

We cover a little over 120 companies throughout roughly 15 states. Our companies range in size from 50 to 1,000 employees. Roughly 70% of a company’s employees will become regular users so we are effectively becoming the doctors of record for the majority of employees at the most forward-thinking companies.

Where do you see the company going from here?

We will expand to most states while increasing our sales team, the target size of companies, and number of physicians we hire to work full-time for us. We are also beginning to work with large healthcare delivery institutions.

Like retail clinics and urgent care centers, Sherpaa is an entirely new genre of healthcare delivery. Many institutions missed the boat on building their own urgent care centers and keeping local care within their networks. We’re starting to work with those healthcare institutions that realize care will be accessed first online, and secondly, if needed, in-person at one of their brick and mortar centers. Delivering and coordinating care online is a difficult task, and we’ve had roughly four years of experience doing this, so, we’re working with those institutions who need our expertise.

Where do you see the mHealth industry going?

Healthcare is typically 15 to 20 years behind the times, which makes things nice for our industry. I think mobile healthcare technology will parallel how the internet and mobile technology has grown.

The low-hanging fruit are the transaction apps like Amazon and OpenTable. The harder problems have to do with social media sites like Facebook, especially when half the users are looking to communicate for free while the other half wants to get paid for their communication. Eventually we’ll figure out the transactions and then move on to the communication.

How long are we from seeing modern mHealth technologies going mainstream?

Healthcare is disjointed with many silos. There will be pockets of innovative leaders in local healthcare systems that pioneer a gradual institutional transformation; however, because the payers are institutional customers in healthcare rather than patients, mainstream adoption of mHealth technologies will progress frustratingly slow.

There is a trend toward optimizing for the patient experience, but this is also dependent on visionary leaders. The adoption curve will depend on the concentration of visionary leaders that leverage their institutions to usher in mHealth technologies that make the patient experience as exceptional as possible.