Jay Parkinson: Tele Vision for Health Care
Dr. Jay Parkinson and his virtual health platform Sherpaa are quietly bringing telemedicine to the forefront of employers’ minds by providing meaningful health care with measurable results.
Dr. Jay Parkinson photo by David Lubarsky Photography
Becoming a doctor is an excercise in narrowing. Doctor's undergraduate science degrees are honed in on health care during medical school and then on specific patient populations or areas of the body during residency. The ultimate goal is to successfully treat a patient one-on-one.
Dr. Jay Parkinson took that path, but he doesn't fit that mold.
"I've always been a big-picture thinker,” Parkinson said. “I knew that I didn’t want to be part of a broken system. Trying something out has always been my passion, and sometimes it leads to bigger and better things.”
In Parkinson’s case, thinking big also meant thinking back. His online health care company, SherpaaHealth Inc., builds upon the practice of telemedicine — virtual care delivered in real time — that was first conceptualized in 1967 by Dr. Kenneth Bird. Since then, the practice has seen success in niche markets, including the prison system, but is slowly gaining mainstream acceptance among employers, patients, the medical community and, perhaps most importantly, venture capitalists.
By integrating the latest technologies, Parkinson is helping employers reduce rising health insurance costs while still providing quality care to their employees.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in biology from Washington University in St. Louis and his medical degree from Penn State University, he began to question the effect he would be able to have on the population’s health while completing a pediatric residency at the now-shuttered St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York’s West Village neighborhood.
“When I was in residency, I saw the life of doctors and that it was really one-on-one,” said Parkinson, 39. “I thought that was really cool, but when you want to make an impact in the world, you really have to make a systems change, a process change and a big-picture change. I realized that I had all these really great ideas about what health care can and should be, but that you can’t really do that when you’re seeing patients one-on-one.”
In 2006, while completing his second residency for preventive medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Parkinson stumbled upon a solution capable of changing the way that health care is delivered in the United States.
Photography was an outlet for Parkinson at this time, one that led him to form friendships with other photographers and members of the “creative class,” many of whom did not have health insurance.
“I was sort of their connection to health care,” Parkinson said. “They would hit me up all the time with emails and pictures of what was going on with them, and I would do my best to help them out. Doing that made me realize there was something to that approach. People are absolutely willing to communicate online with doctors.”
He wasn’t wrong.
In its 2014 survey of telemedicine, international law firm Foley & Lardner found that 84 percent of executives feel that telemedicine services are either “important” or “very important” to their organization. Furthermore, in its 2014 Health Care Changes Ahead Survey of U.S. employers with at least 1,000 employees Towers Watson & Co. found that 75 percent of employers anticipate offering telemedicine services by 2018 at a potential health care cost savings of $6 billion a year.
With a secure messaging system that allows patients to text and email with Sherpaa staff physicians, Parkinson is using telemedicine to both keep patients out of the traditional health care system and drive down the rising cost of health insurance for employers.
The concept of telemedicine is not hip or young. It is not the brainchild of a Silicon Valley tech wizard. It was developed five decades ago because a doctor got tired of sitting in traffic.
In the 1960s doctors made about $8,000 a year, said Dr. Jay Sanders, professor adjunct at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and CEO of the Global Telemedicine Group. As a result, many of his colleagues moonlighted at outside practices. Sanders’ professor, the aforementioned Bird, served as the medical director at Logan Airport Medical Station in Boston. Though the airport was only 3½ miles from Massachusetts General Hospital where they both worked, the commute sometimes took him an hour each way.
“One day he was so upset about the commute that he came up to me, grabbed my arm and told me he had an idea,” Sanders said. “He wanted to buy two cameras and put one at Logan Airport and one in the ER and examine patients over TV.”
Though Bird, who died in 1991, came up with the concept, Sanders is widely considered the father of telemedicine.
“I thought it was the stupidest idea I had ever heard in my life,” Sanders s