This past year has seen the North American healthcare system stretched to its limits, with hospitals and frontline workers being overwhelmed and Canadians struggling to access healthcare as they’ve done before.
2020 demonstrated the need for increased innovation in health technology and, at WELL Health Technologies, the focus has always been on leveraging technology to empower patients and practitioners everywhere.
It’s abundantly clear that both physicians and their patients are adapting to virtual medicine and care, with the use of WELL’s telehealth services seeing incredible growth this past year. The way care is delivered to Canadian patients is rapidly changing, becoming more accessible and efficient, and the tenacity of the healthcare system is evident in the acceleration toward patient-centric care powered by technology.
With over 20 years of experience in digitizing existing industries and systems, Hamed Shahbazi has been on a mission to innovate and connect old with new. Shahbazi is excited for the opportunity that presents itself in 2021 for digital healthcare in North America, digitizing the system and increasing the accessibility of omni-channel experiences.
What is the future of healthcare in North America?
HS: WELL was founded on the belief that the patient is the most under-utilized resource in achieving optimal wellness and so, patient-centric care remains the focal point for everything we pursue across North America. Gone are the days of patients feeling left in the dark when it comes to their medical history. As a technology service provider and an omni-channel healthcare company who aims to connect the dots of integrated care, we look for opportunities to actively engage patients and empower them to take a proactive approach to their health. We do this, by not only investing in technology but also by empowering patients with services and access to enhanced experiences.
How has digital care advanced this year? Has COVID-19 accelerated this progress?
HS: The pandemic has affected all of us, one way or another. However, it was a force for change in the healthcare industry, specifically in technology. It called for the need to innovate quickly, and it created an opportunity for WELL to connect with our patients, doctors and other healthcare providers and find better ways to support their needs. No one was prepared with how to handle physical distancing and there was an urgent need for digital tools to connect patients and healthcare providers virtually without compromising the quality of healthcare delivered. We believe that healthcare tech will continue to grow at the rapid pace we’ve witnessed over the past year.
How will technology play a larger role in healthcare in a post-COVID world?
HS: Our expertise rests in the digitization and modernization of healthcare. It is clear that there has been an underinvestment in the digitization and modernization of healthcare experiences. There is a real need for healthcare services to catch up with other industries, in order to better serve the needs of patients and their desire for enhanced digitally driven experiences. COVID has accelerated the adoption of telehealth and has open minds to the further digitization of healthcare. This represents a meaningful opportunity for WELL, who with its current blend of clinical and digital assets and its strong financial position is well positioned to benefit in the coming years. For example, a few months ago WELL launched apps.health as a way to connect healthcare professionals with new digital tools designed to help them better support their patients directly through their EMR. This will translate into improved primary care experiences for their patients. This means, patients could gain access to aspects of their medical records, receive lab results, view their prescription history, and access their healthcare provider directly from their phone.
What is ‘integrated care’ and how does it tie in to the future of healthcare?
HS: The opportunity exists for WELL to digitally integrate different healthcare services, connect various categories of healthcare practices including primary care, allied care, specialty care, and virtual care – and by doing so focus energy on “whole person health”. The way we achieve this is with technology. We see a huge opportunity to digitize healthcare in North America and provide all patients the opportunity for an omni-channel experience, which means that a patient will never have to worry about repeating their story to multiple physicians because a patient’s healthcare record will be something they exert some level of control over. Healthcare is evolving due to tech enablement, we like to think of this as the health renaissance for the 21st century.
What does virtual care look like and is it as effective as in-person care?
HS: All industries have undergone digital transformation. The ongoing digitization of healthcare experiences will absolutely continue. The pandemic accelerated adoption but the evolution towards digital has always been inevitable. We understand the importance of in-person patient visits, and throughout this past year we have seen in-person and virtual care both play key roles in the delivery of care. The truth is, healthcare experiences have been under-digitized for a long time. WELL’s acquisitions and investments in digital experiences and new technology is helping fuel innovation and evolution. Virtual care and in-person care will continue to co-exist, but they will be seen as complementary to each other instead of virtual care as simply a substitute for in-person care.
WELL Health has been very active in acquiring other healthcare related companies. What is your strategy around acquisitions?
HS: WELL believes in the power of acquiring and investing in technology companies who are leading the pack in their areas of focus. We are focused on shifting the trajectory and future for the Canadian healthcare tech startup ecosystem. In many ways, we aim to be like the Berkshire Hathaway of healthcare tech. Similar to Berkshire Hathaway, we want to be a disciplined capital allocator, and let these acquisitions continue to operate with a fair bit of autonomy within one of our business units. But unlike Berkshire Hathaway, all of our acquisitions are focussed in the healthcare tech sector.
In 2020, we acquired 14 digital care startups and made minority investments in two additional startups. So far in 2021 we have completed the acquisitions of Exechealth, OpenHealth, Ardacare and Intrahealth, where we expanded to new markets around the globe, acquired and welcomed two new EMR companies, expanded into the US and acquired and closed our largest acquisition to date – CRH Medical, previously a NYSE and TSX listed company. That’s a total of 8 announced transactions in the early months of 2021.
Over the past few years we’ve seen tremendous growth by investing in tech entrepreneurs and empowering them with access to capital and support to scale faster and stronger. Our M&A program continues to be very active. We will continue to make acquisitions that reflect our fiscal discipline. We are very proud of the investments in earlier-stage startups, like INSIG Corporation, a telehealth company, and Pillway, an e-prescription service, where we’ve supported the growth of these companies and helped to enhance their presence across the healthcare tech industry.
WELL’s recent announcement about iPhone Health Records is very interesting. What does it mean and how will this impact Canadians?
HS: We are extremely excited about our partnership with iPhone Health Records. Patient-centric healthcare and patient enablement has always been a big part of our mission and vision at WELL. That is why being able to deliver on that mission through iPhone Health Records is an exciting moment for us at WELL. We are the first telehealth and Canadian EMR platform to offer Health Records and enable patients to download and view their health information on iPhone. The convenience and accessibility that is delivered through iPhone Health Records is helping drive the future of healthcare for Canadians. This will empower patients with an easy and convenient way of accessing their health records directly on their iPhone. We believe this will help Canadians more actively participate in their health, leading to better health outcomes and a higher patient understanding of their overall health status.
What can people look forward to with WELL Health in 2021?
HS: 2021 is an exciting time for healthcare. Yes, this past year was hard and challenged many people in ways no one could have prepared for, however it pushed physicians and the healthcare system to evolve, innovate, find solutions using technology and connect with each other. I believe this year we will see continued growth in digital healthcare, finding ways to be more efficient, effective and transparent in the delivery of care. The pandemic catalyzed an adoption of digital tools across many industries and pushed the healthcare system to catch up and integrate digital tools also. Canadians can expect greater convenience, continued digitization of healthcare experiences, and a more patient centric focus to healthcare delivery.
We’re looking forward to maintaining our pace of acquisitions into 2021. We currently have 9 signed LOI’s in our funnel which would create significant growth this year, especially when combined with the recently announced close of WELL’s largest acquisition to date, CRH Medical. CRH recently announced their Q4 numbers, generating revenues of over $36M USD which grew at 21% on a YoY basis. Shareholder EBITDA was over $11M USD implying a run rate of generating more than $40M USD in EBITDA. When combined with WELL’s own revenues, we are now approaching $300M CAD in annual revenues.
We are expecting over 300% revenue growth this year, with the possibility of doing an IPO in the US by the end of the year. WELL Health is continuing to grow at a rapid pace and we are excited for the opportunities and acquisitions we have in our pipeline. It’s an exciting time for Canada’s healthcare industry and I’m looking forward to the continued focus on digitizing the system, driving forward with purpose, in a way that is helping to further empower both practitioners and their patients.