The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
Get our free newsletter
Sign Up
Science + Tech

What Happens When Health Care Becomes a Stock Market Play?

Well Health is a new kind of health-care company in Canada. But some see big risks. Part of a series.

Andrew MacLeod 9 Sep 2020 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of All Together Healthy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). Find him on Twitter or reach him at

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Vancouver company Well Health Technologies Corp. was growing rapidly and had ambitious expansion plans.

Some investors saw an opportunity. But other people saw a threat to public health care.

Well had, over a couple of years, acquired 21 primary care clinics in B.C., become the electronic medical record provider to another 1,446 clinics across Canada and dedicated a significant marketing budget to promoting its services.

Well is something new, a Canadian company focused on providing direct health-care services and traded on the stock market.

Investors have been enthusiastic, bidding up Well’s stock price. Shares that were worth 25 cents a little more than two years ago had risen to about $2 by early this year. The COVID-19 pandemic brought more interest, and shares topped $6 by Sept. 1.

By September, Well was worth about $790 million and looked set to keep growing.

But what may be good for investors is likely going to be bad for patients, said Marcy Cohen, a community researcher who has worked on issues around primary care and community care for two decades.

“They’re obviously trying different strategies about how and where the profit possibilities are,” Cohen said. “Because they’re a corporation, their responsibility is to their shareholders. They are looking at health care as a revenue generating opportunity, so they’re looking and experimenting with all the different ways they might be able to make a profit out of health care.”

Private entities have been providing health care in Canada for years, but they have tended to be small and run by physicians who put the priority on patients, not shareholders, she said.

With Well’s establishment, Canada is entering a new world of marketing, advertising and corporatization in health care.

851px version of Marcy Cohen
Researcher Marcy Cohen says corporate health care brings a focus on shareholders, not patients. Photo by Maggie MacPherson.

“I think it’s potentially a huge shift and very problematic and is the reason there are so many mainstream physicians’ organizations trying to respond,” Cohen said.

Nobody from Well was available for an interview.

Pardeep Sangha, the company’s vice-president of corporate strategy and investor relations, asked for detailed questions by email but didn’t respond to them by publication time.

Sangha did send a June presentation for investors and reports on the company from three stock analysts, all of which focus on the strength of the company as an investment. There’s also a wealth of documents filed with regulators on the company’s finances and plans.

According to that financial reporting, Well sees itself as part of the solution to improve health care. “Well aims to positively impact health outcomes by leveraging technology to empower and support patients and doctors,” it said in its most recent quarterly report filed May 15.

Well also sees a business opportunity. Health-care delivery in Canada was worth $242 billion in 2017 and 15.4 per cent of that, about $37 billion, was spent on physicians, it told investors.

“The company’s overarching goal is to consolidate and modernize primary health-care assets using digital technologies and processes that improve patient experience, operational efficiency and overall care performance," it said. “Well intends to address the issue of fragmentation in the Canadian health-care system which management believes has led to a lack of digitization of primary health-care clinics.”

Observers suggest the approach is similar to what corporations have done in other industries, including veterinary hospitals and funeral services.

Well has officially existed since 2010, but it’s only since 2018 that it has focused on primary care clinics and related services, discontinuing its previous endeavours Canada Yoga Inc. and Shakti Yoga Apparel LLC.

582px version of WellTechnologiesGraph.jpg
Well Technologies’ stock was trading at about $1.40 the day a pandemic emergency was declared in BC. This week, it’s valued at more than $6. Data from TSE.

Company materials highlight the investment Li Ka-shing of Hong Kong, the 35th richest person in the world according to Forbes Magazine, has made in the company.

It also talks about the track record of chairman and CEO Hamed Shahbazi, who previously founded TIO Networks Corp. and grew it into a major provider of bill payment services before a sale to PayPal Holding Inc. in 2017 for more than $300 million.

Since 2018, Well has grown by buying clinics and electronic medical records companies. Well now owns and operates 21 clinics and provides EMR software and services to some 1,500 clinics. It also owns a 51-per-cent stake in SleepWorks Medical Inc., a company in the business of diagnosing sleep disorders and selling the equipment to treat them.

This spring, Well opened a dermatology clinic in North Vancouver under the brand name “Derm Lab,” where three doctors will provide medical and cosmetic services.

And in March, as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Canada, Well launched VirtualClinic+ to connect patients and physicians using video, phone and secure messaging, allowing patients to avoid sitting in a clinic waiting room.

“These capabilities are designed to support continuity of care, improve accessibility to quality care and ultimately drive better health outcomes,” the document said.

Well now has hundreds of people providing care through its VirtualClinic+ program and can handle more than 1,000 appointments a day, which in turn has allowed the company to cut costs and increase its profits.

“Going forward Well anticipates that physicians will be operating in a hybrid model of seeing patients in-clinic as well as using telehealth,” the company’s quarterly report said. “In this scenario, physicians aren’t required to be in the office as much; therefore, each clinic can support more physicians than before.”

851px version of Well Health Medical Clinic
Well Technologies has expanded by buying established clinics, with plans for more acquisitions across Canada. Photo by Maggie MacPherson.

It announced plans to close a clinic in Surrey and relocate the physicians to other clinics the company owns nearby, “thereby maintaining revenues and increasing the utilization in our other clinics and improving our overall EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] profile.”

In other words, it anticipated being able to close the clinic and consolidate services in other clinics, each of which would become more profitable.

In the three months that ended in March, Well had $10.2 million in revenue. The majority of that, $6.8 million, came from providing publicly insured services. Well says it pays staff doctors about 70 per cent of the fees received from the province.

Another $1.7 million was paid directly by patients or third parties for services not covered by the province’s Medical Services Plan.

Digital services provided another $1.7 million, 10 times higher than a year earlier, the company said.

The company’s documents are also clear about the ambitions for continued growth.

It intends to expand its clinics from B.C. into other parts of Canada and to continue expanding its telehealth program “not only as a defensive strategy to mitigate against any potential decreases in its onsite clinical business due to COVID-19 physical distancing requirements, but also as an offensive strategy to grow its share of the expanding telehealth market in North America.”

According to the company’s documents, there is a “strong pipeline of potential acquisition targets to drive its inorganic growth strategy.” Due to COVID-19, it said, it would likely increase its focus on investing in technologies and services that could be provided remotely.

Baldev Sanghera provides community care in Burnaby, including at a physician-owned clinic. A family doctor since 1997, he sees how Well’s corporate clinics are already changing the landscape.

“I think they’re a very big threat in that they have a lot of marketing behind them,” he said, adding neither the public nor physicians have recognized what’s coming.

Since buying clinics in the Lower Mainland, Well has laid off frontline staff and sought efficiencies, he said. Physicians working in the clinics have had to focus on seeing more patients, and are generally less satisfied with their work, Sanghera said.

For patients, the care they get is comparable to fast food, he said, though many won’t know what they’re missing. “If the only thing that’s been advertised to you is McDonald’s, then that’s a great meal.”

Ultimately, it’s a question of resiliency and how to deliver primary care in a way that puts the needs of the community first, Sanghera said. “The pandemic has shown us having a corporate outlook on community life doesn’t give you the tools.”  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Do not:

  •  Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully, threaten, name-call or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, downvote, or flag suspect activity
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls and flag violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Stay on topic
  • Connect with each other


The Barometer

Tyee Poll: What Coverage Would You Like to See More of This Year?

Take this week's poll