Profiles in Telehealth: Rafid Fadul - Wheel Chief Medical Officer

Wheel Chief Medical Officer, Rafid Fadul, discusses his journey to telemedicine, the importance of a “clinician-first” mantra, and how systems-level interventions are key to the future of healthcare.

What’s your role at Wheel?

I've been with Wheel since 2018 and lead the medical side of the Wheel team as Chief Medical Officer. My primary focus is to be a fierce advocate for all the clinicians on our team, and consequently all of the patients they treat.

Telehealth as a sector is constantly evolving, and the responsibility of Wheel as a whole is to protect the integrity and experience of telehealth for both clinicians and patients. In a more granular way, it means that we vet the practices and protocols for each client—or telehealth company—that wants to be powered by Wheel.

We make sure what our clients want to build and provide is always in the best interest of patients, doesn’t pose a risk to our clinicians, and will create a good experience for all parties. This gives our clinicians, the Wheel Care Team, comfort that we are doing the background work of vetting opportunities on their behalf, so by the time a telehealth consult gets to them, they can focus without worry on what they do best: taking care of the patient.

What’s your background? What did you do before working with Wheel?

I completed my undergraduate degree and medical school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. I started out studying economics, but I kept being drawn towards medicine. Ultimately, I was able to marry those two interests and focus both on fixing patients and also fixing health systems.

It was while I was doing a residency and my MBA (timing was not the greatest from a sleep/balance perspective!) that I first got involved in telehealth. My capstone project at Johns Hopkins was building a vehicle for U.S. doctors to deliver medical care to patients and education to doctors in third world countries.

I took a hospital-based position after residency—which was a great real-world experience—before starting my fellowship in pulmonary critical care at Cleveland Clinic. There, I focused largely on lung transplantation and patient compliance.

Despite the increasing bureaucracy and paperwork, I love patient care and still practice. When I’m not in the hospital or working with Wheel, I’m trying to keep up with my son Faris, or I’m at a Cavs game with friends, or I’m working at MedWish International doing work abroad. That sounds like work, but some of the most fun and gratifying experiences I’ve ever had were in remote corners of the world, helping people that are just happy to have you there. It’s also a great excuse to visit places off the beaten path!

Why did you join the Wheel team?

There are several exciting parts about working at Wheel.

The most obvious one is the empowering culture we are leading for clinicians. Whether you refer to it as clinician burnout or moral hazard, clinicians have been abused and taken advantage of for far too long. It’s extremely gratifying to operate by our “clinician first” mantra and guide our clients and partners to do the same.

I think at every hospital I’ve ever worked at, there was some version of “patient first” in their mission. It’s exciting to finally be in a place where the words we say have meaning, and you can see an immediate impact in the lives of patients and providers. This doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s a belief that resonates with everyone within the organization-- we are true to the mission each and every day.

It’s exciting to finally be in a place where the words we say have meaning, and you can see an immediate impact in the lives of patients and providers.

My day to day varies, which is what I enjoy. One day it involves working with the development team to share the clinician perspective on how the platform experience feels, and the next day I’m with our amazing operations team reviewing a patient experience to make sure it’s optimized. Other days I work directly with our clients giving them clinical feedback and figuring out ways to achieve their clinical goals.

What’s your recent Wheel Moment of Reward?

Working with Wheel I’m lucky enough to experience gratifying moments on the administrative side and clinical side.

On the administrative side, I get to work with an innovative team that brings fresh thinking to old problems. The outcome of that is watching our virtual care clients have the “Aha!” moment that patient access can be improved in a way that’s better, faster, and cheaper.

On the clinical side, a particular patient comes to mind that brings me back to why I got into medicine in the first place. I was engaging in an asynchronous consult that prompted a patient interaction to dig deeper into the patient’s co-morbid depression (not the reason for the consult). This led to a back and forth exchange wherein he disclosed he had been having difficulty getting over the passing of his father two years prior. While he felt he was getting better, he shared how difficult each day could be when a reminder of his father popped up. However, he hadn’t received care from a mental health specialist due to insurance and financial constraints. He then shared that this was the most he was ever able to talk about these issues with a medical provider. He expressed that even this conversation, which allowed him to talk through his feelings, was beneficial to him.

Those who haven’t practiced telemedicine sometimes say it’s not possible to make connections with people remotely, and this was a great reminder that we DO have a tremendous impact. Some people use telemedicine modalities for convenience, but for many, this is their only access to care.

With telemedicine, we can absolutely connect with people and positively influence outcomes.

What do you think the future of healthcare holds?

Healthcare has made huge strides, and anyone would be hard-pressed to argue that the individual care delivered in the U.S. is rivaled anywhere. However, as a system, there is MUCH room for improvement.

With evolving technology, the landscape of our field is changing—in both the immediate clinical setting (e.g. diagnostics and therapeutics) and on a system level (e.g. redefining patient encounters, optimizing workforce capacity). Optimizing systems-level interventions is the most exciting area for me, as it has the greatest impact on the greatest number of lives.

One of the ways to optimize our system is to meet patients where they are in terms of encounters and allow clinicians to scale in the ways that work best for them. This may mean using wearables (or implantables in some cases) to collect data and transmit it automatically to clinicians, who can give guidance remotely and asynchronously.

As someone who practices in critical care, I can attest that the majority of severely ill patients can tie their outcomes to modifiable risk factors. Leveraging all the tools we have to get ahead of those risk factors means healthier patients, better lives, less cost, and a better system.

Thanks, Dr. Fadul, for sharing your thoughts and being an essential member of the #WheelCareTeam!

Interested in joining our team? Check out the latest career opportunities with Wheel.