NYC-based asynchronous telemedicine service Sherpaa quietly opened its doors this week to direct-to-consumer business. Previously, text message and app access to Sherpaa doctors was available only via an employer.
"B2B is definitely our core right now, but we decided that after really refining our processes over the years and creating an entirely new delivery model that it was ready for prime time," Sherpaa founder and CEO Dr. Jay Parkinson told MobiHealthNews in an interview. "We find 65 percent of the company will use this as their go-to doctors. It’s almost like this smart layer that exists before you have to use your insurance. ... So with the usage, with how effective we’ve been with companies, why not step it up to individuals, see if they’ll pay? And I think they will."
The service, which is free to use for employees, will cost $40 per month for individual customers. Customers can use Sherpaa’s app, the web, or a phone to communicate with doctors that work exclusively for Sherpaa 24-7. Using any of these platforms, users can get in touch with the doctors who can answer questions about a medical issue and send a prescription to a local pharmacy when appropriate.
"We just did the math, baked in some profitability, and we launched with this initial price," Parkinson said. "We’re going to learn a lot based on traffic and interest but that’s a number we’re comfortable with and I think it makes sense. It’s unlimited care; we’re not billing your insurance on top of it. This is $40 a month; The way I like to think of it is, if we prevent a $5,000 ER visit, that’s 10 years worth of Sherpaa."
The service is available in 34 states, due in part to regulatory concerns and in part to strategic licensing on Sherpaa's part. Residents of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and West Virginia won't be able to use Sherpaa.
"It’s definitely staying out of the states that are more grey than others, but we also have to license our doctors in these states, so we strategically license our doctors to be able to cover all over the United States," Parkinson said. "One of the reasons, if you look at those states, besides Texas and Colorado, they’re low population density. So we’re essentially covering 70, 80 percent of America being in the states we’re in."
As for the quiet roll-out (the company only announced it on their website and Parkinson's personal Twitter), Parkinson says it's by design, to keep the influx of patients from growing faster than the company can handle.
"What’s interesting about us is we’re operating as a profitable company. We’re very much in control of how we grow," he said. "We’re doing this because we think we shouldn’t have this barrier between patients and interesting, good care. We used to get a lot of good press, but it was irrelevant unless your company signs up for Sherpaa. Now we get press and it’s like ‘you too can sign up for Sherpaa.' And that’s the mission and the goal. To give it to as many people as want it."