Technology-based Business Offers New Solutions to Healthcare Problems

No Jewish mother could want more for her daughter than to be fixed up with a doctor. Even better, the meetup led to marriage of sorts. Cheryl Swirnow, a Human Resource and insurance specialist, and Jay Parkinson, MD, MPH, became business partners.

healthcare costs, social enterprise, small businessThey were “fixed up” not to date, but because they shared a common passion -- fixing the broken healthcare system. Business relations are akin to dating: You want to make sure you’re compatible. Swirnow and Parkinson both like collaborating with each other but, even more important, they are in sync about the vision of the company, that old adage about “doing good while doing well.”

Swirnow and Parkinson focused on the preventive medicine part of the healthcare equation: Fewer Doctor Visits = Decreased Claims = Decreased Costs. And so Sherpaa came to be, a system of doctors who serve as Guides to people navigating the healthcare system.

The new partners looked around and saw what has changed: the way people communicate. That communication became the model for delivering first-line healthcare. It’s a model that wasn’t possible 10 years ago but now, with cell phones and email ingrained in our lives, it’s a model whose time has come.

In other words, they looked for new solutions to old problems.

Cut your finger? Call your Sherpaa “guide,” who is a primary care doctor and send along a photo of the damage. Your guide will tell you if the cut can be treated via phone or email or if you need to see a doctor in person. If it’s the latter, the Guide will schedule an appointment for you rather than you making a trip to ER where you would most likely have to wait in a long line.

Another example of how the Guides work: You think you have an allergy to something. You call your guide who asks questions, tells you to keep a food diary for a week, and schedules an appointment with an allergist for the next week. You’ve just saved yourself the time it would have taken for a doctor’s appointment to find out you need to keep that food diary and your employer’s insurance company saved the cost of at least one office visit.

That’s the target market: employers who want to give their employees good healthcare but also want to save money.

About 70% of the time, the guides solve the problem. The other 30% of the time, guides refer patients to one of the company’s 100 recommended specialists for a same day appointment, said Swirnow. No need to wait in a hospital Emergency Room, which saves the patient time. It also saves the employer money. If that cut requires plastic surgeon to stitch it up, it could cost $4000 in ER and may cost $1,000 at a specialist.

Sherpaa’s clients are employers for whom they analyze health care spending and recommend changes that reduce costs while providing more of the types of coverage the employees actually need. The savings more than cover the cost of Sherpaa’s services. Many of Sherpaa’s clients are tech-based companies, such as tumblr., or socially responsible companies that also have a “doing good” aspect to their business model.

Now that Sherpaa has a proven the model, Swirnow and Parkinson are ready to scale. They raised $1.9 million to hire staff and are ready to roll out. The next stop San Francisco. Expansion requires developing relationships with both primary care doctors and specialists in each new location. It’s that communication thing again and it’s not something that can be done overnight, so a special kind of investor is required, one that shares the company’s values and values doing good.

Social media has turned marketing on its head. Now Swirnow and Parkinson are using it to turn healthcare on its head. What industry will you improve using social media?
 

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