Michelle Davey of Wheel: In Light Of The Pandemic, Here Are The 5 Things We Need To Do To Improve The US Healthcare System

An Interview With Luke Kervin

Luke Kervin, Co-Founder of Tebra
Authority Magazine
Published in
12 min readAug 4, 2021


We need to embrace value-based care. Let’s get patients, care teams, and healthcare companies financially motivated around the quality of services rather than the number of services. Fee-based healthcare hasn’t proven itself as an effective way to keep our country healthy. There’s a reason why the U.S. spends the most on healthcare yet has some of the worst population health outcomes.

The COVID-19 Pandemic taught all of us many things. One of the sectors that the pandemic put a spotlight on was the healthcare industry. The pandemic showed the resilience of the U.S. healthcare system, but it also pointed out some important areas in need of improvement.

In our interview series called “In Light Of The Pandemic, Here Are The 5 Things We Need To Do To Improve The U.S. Healthcare System,” we are interviewing healthcare leaders, doctors, hospital administrators, and nursing home administrators who can share lessons they learned from the pandemic about how we need to improve the U.S. Healthcare System.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure to interview Michelle Davey, CEO & co-founder, Wheel.

Michelle is the CEO & Co-founder of Wheel, a digital health company that makes it simple for companies and clinicians to deliver care virtually. Michelle is driven to change the way healthcare works and expand access to care. Her background is in talent and operations, both at Google and Favor Delivery, and most recently served as the head of Global Talent at Medici.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into our interview, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and a bit about what brought you to this specific career path?

My background is primarily in recruiting and operations. Throughout my career, I’ve placed tens of thousands of workers — everyone from engineers at Google to drivers for on-demand delivery services. When I joined a telehealth company as the head of talent, I thought that building out a clinician workforce would be a piece of cake. As it turns out, navigating miles of red tape with state-by-state telemedicine regulations are complex.

That’s where the idea for Wheel first came from.

While we didn’t predict the pandemic and immediacy of demand for virtual care, my co-founder and I knew there would be challenges to meeting that demand with an already declining and burned-out workforce. Today, we bring together both the technology and clinician network to power some of the most well-known brands in digital health.

My interest in healthcare also stems from a personal experience with the healthcare system. I grew up in a rural part of Texas with an undiagnosed autoimmune condition. I spent 15 years going from one doctor’s office to the next trying to figure out why I felt so sick. Unfortunately, I know my story isn’t unique, and having access to telemedicine could have helped me get my diagnosis much earlier.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Early in my career, I worked for a medical device company that sold insulin pumps. My sales territory had the highest levels of unemployment in the U.S. and the highest rate of Type 2 diabetes. Usually, Medicare would cover the cost of an insulin pump but patients still couldn’t afford the cost of their insulin. Many patients shared their stories about how they were forced to buy it under the table so they could manage their diabetes. The people I met — and their personal struggles to take care of their health — both motivated and discouraged me. Initially, that experience pushed me to give up working in healthcare altogether. But that experience of seeing our broken and backward healthcare system up close always stuck with me. Deep down I think I knew that I would return to working in healthcare.

*Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

When we were first building out the Wheel website and initial product offering we couldn’t afford to hire a full-time programmer. So we decided to hire an overseas developer to help get the product off the ground. We set the deadline right before an important client meeting with a well-known health brand. Everything looked great until we tested the product shortly before the meeting. We were horrified to find the developer had accidentally redirected our website to a Russian website that let people order chicken parts in bulk. What a disaster! Because the programmer was based overseas, we weren’t able to fix the website before our meeting. We decided to go into the pitch without our product demo and run them through a slide deck instead. Miraculously, we ended up closing the deal.

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

You can’t assume things will go as planned. In fact, things will never go as planned. You have to act on your feet and make the best of situations, especially in a startup environment. And you have to get comfortable pivoting and solving in the moment. We had the vision and story for our company nailed down. We knew what to say and the client bought in, even without the actual product demo.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Move fast and fix healthcare.”

This is a play on the well-known motto from a big tech company. I like keeping this in mind because it highlights two things you need to balance when building a health tech company. The idea of “moving fast” pushes against the slow-moving nature of the healthcare industry. The notion of “fixing” pushes against the nature of the tech industry to grow quickly, regardless of the costs. We don’t have time to slow down — but we also can’t afford to put patient safety at risk.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

The core of our business model focuses on improving the clinician experience in virtual care. Clinicians are now seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients through virtual care compared to pre-pandemic rates. Many are looking for guidance and best practices because they have never treated patients remotely. Today we’re investing more time and resources in helping clinicians with this transition. We look forward to sharing more on that soon!

How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?

I’m always taken back by the selflessness and sacrifice doctors and nurses continue to show us. At the beginning of the pandemic, they rushed to the front lines to treat people with COVID. More than a year later, they continue to put their own lives at risk for the sake of their patients. Doctors and nurses are like firefighters who choose to run into the burning building when everyone else is running out.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put intense pressure on the American healthcare system. Some healthcare systems were at a complete loss as to how to handle this crisis. Can you share with our readers a few examples of where we’ve seen the U.S. healthcare system struggle?

As the demand for telehealth grew, there was a lot of trial and error. Companies and traditional healthcare providers didn’t have the tech or resources to bring patient visits online. And clinicians weren’t trained or licensed to meet the immediate demand. That meant anxious patients were left with long wait times, often several days before they would hear back from a clinician. The healthcare industry has been able to catch up since, but we could have figured out these growing pains much sooner.

Our healthcare industry has also failed to protect clinicians’ physical and mental health. At first, we were focused on fixing the PPE shortage and providing clinicians with physical protection from the virus. But clinicians were still put in harm’s way. It’s embarrassing to think about doctors and nurses wearing trash bags while treating their COVID patients. The healthcare industry also hasn’t been thinking about the impact on their mental health. Clinician burnout was here before the pandemic. We’re playing catch-up to address their needs.

Our team recently ran a study to better understand the impact of clinician burnout on patients. We found that 70% of patients are alarmed about high levels of stress among clinicians and 80% of patients said their doctor seemed visibly stressed during a healthcare visit. This reiterates the long-term costs of the pandemic and why the healthcare industry should be concerned about clinicians and their mental health.

How do you think we can correct these specific issues moving forward?

There are two things we can do. First, build healthcare for the future. The pandemic taught us that patients want to continue to see their doctor virtually. According to a recent McKinsey report, 76% of people plan to use telehealth after the pandemic. Now is the time to invest in hybrid care, which includes both virtual care and in-person care. Depending on the patient’s care needs, clinicians can decide whether an online visit is appropriate, or if the patient should come into the office. Long-term, I believe we’ll no longer see the distinction between “virtual care” and “in-person care”. Every visit and interaction will be seen as “care”.

The second thing we can do is prioritize the clinician experience. We can’t continue to ask clinicians to take care of us when we aren’t taking care of them. This includes talking about the mental health stigma within the medical community. And helping to normalize conversations on burnout and suicide. We also need to build technology with the clinician experience in mind. Unfortunately, many clinicians are stuck using platforms and devices that only get in the way of providing care to patients.

Of course the story was not entirely negative. Healthcare professionals were true heroes on the front lines of the crisis. The COVID vaccines are saving millions of lives. Can you share a few ways that our healthcare system really did well? If you can, please share a story or example.

I’ll continue to look to healthcare professionals and their selflessness in the face of overwhelming uncertainty. We hear from clinicians every week about their experiences treating patients on the front lines of the pandemic. These stories are often tough to hear. Like trying to convince their patients to wear a mask in the exam room, calming down their crying children before leaving for a shift at the hospital. And even rummaging around for garbage bags and duct tape when their clinic ran out of PPE. At the very least, I hope the pandemic leads to more conversations on how we can take care of those who take care of us.

As a healthcare leader can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.

We know the healthcare system is broken, slow-moving, and difficult to scale. There’s a lot to fix. But that also means we have plenty of room for progress and change.

First, let’s start with the clinician experience. We have the chance to prioritize their needs and encourage them to ask for help when they need it most. To build technology with their experience in mind. To help them focus on what they do best: providing great care to patients. And to express our sincere gratitude for keeping us safe and healthy during the pandemic.

Second, we need to embrace value-based care. Let’s get patients, care teams, and healthcare companies financially motivated around the quality of services rather than the number of services. Fee-based healthcare hasn’t proven itself as an effective way to keep our country healthy. There’s a reason why the U.S. spends the most on healthcare yet has some of the worst population health outcomes.

We also need to invest in preventive care. Many adults, especially millennials, admit they don’t have a primary care physician. No wonder 40% of the country has at least one chronic health condition. This includes people managing diabetes, dementia, hypertension, and heart disease. Focusing on preventive care is especially important now that 36% of people admit they delayed care during the pandemic.

Let’s also meet patients on their own terms. Home-based care makes it easy for people to get the care they need without worrying about transportation or taking time off work. It also helps to bridge the gap between virtual care and in-person care. For example, with telehealth, you can’t read a person’s blood pressure or do a physical exam. But home-based care provides people with many of the same benefits — getting care from the comfort of their own home.

Finally, we also need to expand our definition of access to care. This includes addressing geographic and socioeconomic barriers. It also includes addressing infrastructure barriers, including internet access and connectivity. But we need to take this a step further. Telehealth’s ability to connect patients with clinicians doesn’t solve the access gap. We need to connect people with the best clinician for their care needs. For example, if someone lives in a town with one family physician (like I did) then we also need to make sure they have convenient and affordable access to specialist care.

How do you think we can address the problem of physician shortages?

The first step is acknowledging why so many clinicians are turning in their resignation letters. The toll of the pandemic continues to make an impact on clinicians. But some of the top reasons for burnout before the pandemic included bureaucratic tasks, long shifts, and lack of respect from administrators. These are all problems that still exist today and will continue to get in their way of keeping clinicians from turning in their resignation letter.

We need to look at how clinicians were treated during the pandemic and how this could impact future generations of doctors and nurses. According to our recent study one in three people no longer see the value in going to medical school and two in five people don’t want their children to become a doctor or nurse. If clinicians are thinking about quitting — and the general public is second-guessing the value of medical school altogether — we’re in trouble.

Finally, we should encourage clinicians to explore a new way to work. Healthcare professionals are well-known for their demanding schedules. And powering through long shifts at clinics and hospitals. But now that patients are comfortable with online healthcare visits, more clinicians are now exploring working in virtual care part-time or full-time. While there are many benefits to working in virtual care, the flexibility of work from home largely appeals to clinicians. They can provide for their family and more easily find time to spend with their family. It’s a perk embraced by the tech industry but unfamiliar to doctors and nurses.

How do you think we can address the issue of physician diversity?

We need to make diversity a priority, not a box to check. This should start with providing all young people with the encouragement and support they need to consider a career in medicine. Then if they have the dream, we need to help them achieve the dream all along the way. There’s a reason why more than three in four medical students are white and from high-income households.

How do you think we can address the issue of physician burnout?

It starts with listening to clinicians. Understanding why they’re burnt out. And uncovering what can help them feel supported. We help clinicians focus on what they do best and take everything else out of the way. Whether it’s dealing with PPE shortages, feeling frustrated by a clunky EHR system, or worried about missing their daughter’s soccer game.

We also need to encourage them to ask for help when they’re feeling overwhelmed. Historically clinicians have been afraid of admitting they’re feeling burnt out or suicidal because it could impact their license. That’s why steps like passing the Dr. Lorna Breen bill will help to normalize conversations on mental health.

What concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest these changes? What can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to help?

There are two ways we can show compassion and express gratitude for everything clinicians have sacrificed during the pandemic. First is to get vaccinated and follow CDC guidelines so we can finally put an end to this pandemic. Second is to encourage people to seek help when they’re struggling. We can show support for these two initiatives at the individual level, at the community and leader level, and at the corporation level. That’s how we’ll be able to drive true change.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I don’t fit the mold of the traditional founder or CEO. People often underestimate me, thinking I don’t have the experience or grit to succeed. Of course, that only reinforces my drive.

I know how challenging it can be to build a company or chase a dream when your peers don’t look like you. While it’s easy to get distracted by others, we’re all on our own journey. All you need to do is find a problem that you can’t stop thinking about. That’s when you know you’re moving in the right direction.

Our team is now tackling some of the most challenging problems in healthcare. I hope our work encourages others to confront our broken healthcare system. With all the bureaucracy and red tape, it’s easy to be intimidated or discouraged. Disrupting healthcare has proved challenging for even the most successful companies and brightest minds. At the same time, what makes our healthcare system so frustrating also presents an exceptional opportunity for change.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow what we’re working on at Wheel on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Medium.



Luke Kervin, Co-Founder of Tebra
Authority Magazine

Luke Kervin is the Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Tebra