Telehealth staffing and tech services startup Wheel banks $50M to power virtual care

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven a telehealth boom and one fast-growing startup has been behind the scenes powering the infrastructure behind virtual care.

Austin, Texas-based Wheel offers a scalable platform that enables any company to stand up virtual care services. The startup also developed a nationwide clinician network to match providers with patients in real time.

The pandemic confirmed the healthcare industry needs a better way to reach patients virtually, and Wheel has stepped up to meet the demand, according to company executives. The company, which built the back-end infrastructure for telehealth, grew 300% year-over-year and expanded its clinician network by 450%.

Wheel delivered nearly half a million patient visits year-over-year and in the past year, the company also expanded into behavioral health. 

To accelerate its growth, Wheel banked a $50 million series B investment led by Lightspeed Ventures with participation from existing investors CRV, Silverton Partners, Tusk Venture Partners and JPMorgan. New investors including Tony Fadell's Future Shape also participated in the round.

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As lead investor, Lightspeed senior adviser Ling Wong, Ph.D., will join Wheel's board of directors. The company has raised $66 million to date.

Wheel plans to use the fresh capital to further invest in its technology and clinician networks. The company also plans to expand into new specialties as well as triage and front-line care navigation.

Company co-founder and CEO Michelle Davey cut her teeth in recruiting at Google and then took a recruiting role at an on-demand delivery startup. There, she built up the network of contract drivers from 300 to 45,000 people during the height of the gig economy.

Working at health tech startup Medici, Davey recognized the need for a new workforce configuration in healthcare and convinced Medici’s general counsel Griffin Mulcahey to join her in launching a virtual health clinician matching marketplace called Enzyme. That company later became Wheel.

The promise of telehealth is expanding access to care, Davey told Fierce Healthcare. "It's about connecting patients to the right care for them when they need it most," she said. 

And that's a personal issue for Davey as her frustration with the healthcare system goes back to her childhood.

Growing up in rural Texas with limited medical resources, Davey's family spent 15 years taking her to different doctors, often traveling long distances, until she was finally diagnosed with an autoimmune condition. 

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Her work at Wheel brings together her personal and professional experiences, she said. "We're building this network of clinicians and thinking about how do we engage clinicians to work in a new way."

Wheel started as a two-sided matching marketplace to connect clinicians with companies that provide patients with telemedicine services. 

"We realized that the matching was the tip of the iceberg. What was inhibiting telehealth to scale was all the workforce management and infrastructure, the clinician training and education and the quality assurance pieces," Davey said. "Two years ago, we rolled the company into what is now Wheel by providing the back-end to power the infrastructure."

Wheel provides a white-labeled service that enables any company to launch virtual care, including publicly traded digital health companies, tech companies, retailers, labs, and medical device companies. The company's technology addresses the operational and regulatory barriers that often make it challenging to provide care to patients across all 50 states in real-time.

For clinicians, Wheel enables providers to practice at their own schedule and provides them with training, support, and the ability to work across several highly-vetted opportunities, according to Davey. The company has a 90% retention rate.

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"We saw an opportunity to help clinicians get the flexibility and lifestyle that they wanted while still earning," she said. "We also increase the impact of physicians. With in-person care, the traditional way to hire physicians is a one-to-one mode, you lock them into one company and serve patients within that company. Before the pandemic, we saw telehealth replicating that and bringing that one-to-one model online. At Wheel, there is an opportunity for clinicians to work across many different companies to reach broader patient populations and expand access to care."

Wheel's technology connects patients with clinicians across more than a dozen attributes, ensuring patients are matched with the best clinician for their care needs. For example, connecting LGBTQIA+ patients with primary care clinicians that have been trained to provide affirming care. 

The company's massive growth has been fueled by the healthcare industry's staffing needs and the demand for the core software infrastructure to power virtual care. Wheel's contracted revenue in the fourth quarter of 2020 was $3.3 million and has grown to $42 million in the first four months of 2021, according to Forbes.

"We have seen an explosion in demand for telemedicine across our daily lives from sessions with a physical therapist to advice from a specialist," Wong said in a statement. "Michelle and team are fundamentally building new healthcare infrastructure that will define and enable successful virtual care. Wheel has built its business to be symbiotic with their customers, so they're able to scale and grow in lockstep with their customers, a powerful model. I'm honored to join the board and lead the company's Series B financing."