VC-Backed Startup Seeks to Become Digital Hub for Specialty Services

Dec. 7, 2022
Switchboard Health’s CEO says his team has aspirations to quickly go national

A startup digital health venture is looking to become a key connection point between specialty care providers, payers and employers — and maybe meet up down the road with some of the biggest names in retail healthcare.

Switchboard Health Inc. formally launched last month with Boise, Idaho, as its home base after being incubated by investment firm Route 66 Ventures LLC out of Northern Virginia. Led by former GoCheck Kids and Avia executive Derek Baird, the company will next quarter take live a platform that convenes virtual specialty clinics with the promises that consumers will find specialty care easier to access and coordinate, that providers will be better able to take on risk and that employers and payers will face lower costs for such services. Already on the platform are cardiology network Heartbeat Health, thyroid specialists Paloma Health and virtual behavioral care firm Confidant Health.

Baird said his small-but-growing team—he’s looking to grow to employ a few dozen product/engineering, support and care navigation people by late next year—is this month onboarding a few clients and expects to be able to quickly announce that several employers with a broad reach have signed on to offer Switchboard’s services to their workers.

“We will be doing this on a national scale early on,” he said. “If you believe that the value-based care trend will continue and that we will see a world of global capitation, we’ll need better models to go into specialty care.”

Among Switchboard’s possible provider clients, Baird added, are regional health systems looking to fill care gaps, reduce wait times or virtualize some of their offerings as well as rural providers whose patients regularly have to travel hours for specialty services.

“Our team has seen many promising tech-enabled care delivery companies emerge in the past few years,” Ben Britt, managing partner at Route 66 Ventures, said. “We believe in the promise of this space and are excited to launch Switchboard Health to catalyze scale and impact for virtual care providers.”

The COVID-19 pandemic gave a massive boost to virtual health services while also raising consumers’ expectations of how such experiences should go. Most of the attention, however, has gone to virtualizing primary care: A mid-2021 report from McKinsey & Co. said improving access to specialty services is one of the big hurdles to clear in order to realize telehealth's promise. That, Baird said, leaves an opening for Switchboard to scale a platform for various kinds of specialty care, connect specialists so they can coordinate among each other and aggregate medical records for those services. Succeeding, he said, could give the company the future opportunity to connect with blue-chip names such as CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. as they continue to build their portfolios of healthcare services to go with their retail franchises.

“They’re spending a lot of money investing in their hubs and strengthening those parts of their offerings,” he said. “My hope is they will lift their heads and ask, ‘Are we investing in the right spokes?’ And we’ll be able to say that we’ve already invested in setting up a lot of spokes.”

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