Doctor's company reimagines health care delivery

Dr. Jay Parkinson, founder of Sherpaa.
Dr. Jay Parkinson, founder of Sherpaa.

(CBS News) Health care is a nearly $3 trillion per year industry. More than $800 billion of that money goes just for hospital care. And the price is so high, partly because of the way Americans get care.

But Dr. Jay Parkinson is trying to change that with his business, Sherpaa. Parkinson is convinced that using 21st century technology will revolutionize and streamline the way consumers seek medical help.

"I think health care just happened and nobody has ever questioned it," Parkinson said.

But Parkinson is questioning it and says he has an answer that he hopes will revolutionize the way patients get care.

Parkinson doesn't think the patient's experience is a positive one. "If you just count up the number of people who have come in contact with whenever you just want to go to the doctor, there's just so many unnecessary steps."

From the time he graduated medical school 10 years ago, Parkinson has been trying to do things differently. He set up practice in Brooklyn, making house calls to patients who scheduled their own appointments online. His new company Sherpaa is one of several start-ups looking to use technology to help people get better.

The company gives 24/7 phone and email access to a group of doctors in New York City. "You can call or email and 70 percent of the time," Parkinson said. "We will solve that problem over email or on the phone."

For example, if you've suffered a nasty cut, you snap a picture, email it to Sherpaa, and a doctor will respond immediately with instructions. If you need stitches, Sherpaa will schedule a same-day appointment with one of the 100 specialist they work with. That could cut out the expense, and long wait on average more than four hours of a visit to the emergency room. Parkinson said instead of getting charged $4,000, it could be a $1,000 charge.

David Karp, chief executive officer of the tech start-up Tumblr, said hundreds of dollars per employee is spent each month on health care. "It's a tremendous amount, particularly as we get bigger," Karp said.

His 110-person company began using Sherpaa in February to try and bring down those costs, which can be crippling to a small business. Karp's already used it, and so has employee Amanda Ferri after she fainted on a business trip.

Ferri said, "The third time I fainted, at that point the people I was with who luckily were friends of mine, they were like, 'We are taking you to the emergency room.'"

Instead, she called Sherpaa. The doctor gave her advice and scheduled her an appointment with neurologist. Ferri said she "definitely" thinks she saved money on the move on "the emergency room costs alone."

Sherpaa doesn't replace health insurance, but instead works to weed out inefficiencies, while offering a kind of everyman's concierge service. Companies like Tumblr pay about $1,000 a year per employee.

Karp said, "A big part of the brilliance of Sherpaa is they've figured out a way to make that accessible for an early-stage company like ours."

The company also gives companies like Tumblr an opportunity to offer employees benefits they might find in more established companies. Karp said, ""This is one of the first times a startup like Tumblr is able to keep up with the benefits that a huge cooperation like a Google is able to offer their employees."

Sherpaa is still a new company, so it's still too early to tell how successful it is or will become. As its client list expands, the question remains if Sherpaa's need to provide enough doctors will cover the needs of patients.