Big players continue to make hefty investments in health tech—look no further than Amazon expanding its virtual clinic to all 50 states and the planned $3 billion merger between digital wellness company Virgin Pulse and HealthComp.
As consumers demand convenience and better healthcare experiences, virtual care continues to evolve, moving from episodic doctor visits that were a necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic to more personalized, consumer-centric care.
Health tech company Wheel has been building for that "telehealth 2.0" with an eye toward working with large enterprises, health plans, pharma and nontraditional players like retailers.
Wheel unveiled this week the next generation of its virtual care solution that supports configurable care programs for customers combined with a nationwide clinician network. Wheel has built out a library of care programs across urgent care, primary care, convenience care and condition management that organizations can use to customize their telehealth services.
The enhanced platform is the culmination of Wheel's acquisition of GoodRx's back-end virtual care technology a year ago combined with new features and capabilities, Michelle Davey, Wheel CEO and co-founder, said in an interview.
With the deal, valued at nearly $20 million, Wheel snapped up GoodRx Care's clinician-centric electronic medical record system, clinical management tools and patient experience software.
"We're really bringing this enhanced platform to market to power some of the most innovative companies in healthcare," Davey said. "Our aim is to be the seamless platform for companies to build consumer-centric healthcare experiences on top of. So while a lot of companies aren't investing right now in technology, we've really doubled down and continue to invest because we see that consumerization is here. We see consumers demanding healthcare that's convenient and personalized to them."
Consumer-driven companies recognize the opportunity but have been held back—delivering at scale is a heavy lift, and existing technology has made it challenging to build convenient, personalized and comprehensive virtual care programs, she noted. For retailers, generic telehealth platforms can fail to drive customer engagement and can even damage brand trust with unsatisfactory experiences.
"That's why we've invested in the next generation of our platform to deliver on the true promise of consumer-centric care, empowering enterprise organizations that are motivated to rewire the healthcare experience," she said.
Davey said Wheel has "a lot of cash" on its balance sheet to fuel growth and investments and "doesn't have any funding needs in the foreseeable future."
Launched in 2018, Wheel has grown rapidly by powering the infrastructure behind virtual care. The company's tech helps companies scale up telehealth services—and do it in weeks rather than 15 months. The company says it has delivered care to more than 4 million people through its white-labeled services.
The Austin, Texas-based company has raised $216 million to date, backed by investors such as Lightspeed Venture Partners, Tiger Global, Coatue and Salesforce Ventures. In February, Wheel reduced its workforce by 28%, laying off 56 employees; that followed layoffs in August 2022 when it laid off 35 staff members.
Back in August, in an email sent to Wheel staff, Davey said the company decided to reduce its workforce to better serve its long-term strategy and make more focused investments in its technology.
Wheel is now one of several third-party providers, including SteadyMD, Curai Health and Hello Alpha, offering virtual care through Amazon Clinic. The tech giant announced in August a nationwide expansion of its telehealth services.
"Amazon, in particular, is great use case of the type of care that consumers are demanding. It's convenient, timely care, transparent and personalized to them. It was kind of a no-brainer for us to be a part of the Amazon Clinic marketplace as a partner providing that care because it's what we do," she said.
Consumers are increasingly open to getting virtual care services from nontraditional players like retailers, according to a recent survey commissioned by Wheel.
Of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, 2 in 3 people said they’re open to trying virtual care from a retail drugstore chain. What's more, 72% said they were open to using telehealth services provided by a health insurer, 57% indicated they were open to a pharmaceutical manufacturer providing them with virtual care services and 48% expressed interest in getting telehealth visits from a large retailer, the survey found.
Nine in 10 people who have used virtual care in the last year plan to continue doing so, the survey found. And many consumers believe virtual care can help address pain points in the traditional healthcare system—67% believe virtual care can improve limited access to care, and 66% said it can help reduce high costs. More than half also reported that virtual care has motivated them to seek preventive care.
"I do believe that the 'telehealth 1.0,' the episodic, non-personalized, not convenient care, is going away," Davey said. "Hopefully in the future, we're not calling it virtual care versus in-person care, it's just a different modality of care for when the patient or the consumer needs it most. We are seeing a lot of companies invest in that future strategy. The world's becoming more digital, and AI is making that happen faster and faster. I think a lot of large enterprises recognize that change that is happening across industries, not just in healthcare, and the importance of investing now so that in the future they have those capabilities ready."
Wheel also continues to invest in its AI strategy to automate workflows and administrative tasks for clinicians, Davey noted. The company boasts that 93% of Wheel clinicians report high satisfaction with delivering care via its EMR. AI also has a role to play in improving personalization for consumers, she added.