“My, what nice veins you have!” If you’ve ever had blood drawn, you know what comes next: tap, tap, tap—Ouch! I’m not especially squeamish, but I do look away to avoid seeing that giant needle and all those vials of blood.
If you find this ritual of our medical system uncomfortable—maybe even ranking up there with leeches and garlic wraps—I have good news for you! Thanks to the dedication and inspiration of a young Stanford dropout turned entrepreneur, you and your veins are about to be saved.
Elizabeth Holmes just turned 30 years old, but is already one of the richest women in the world. Tall and well-spoken, at first glance she doesn’t appear to be an obsessively driven entrepreneur and medical revolutionary. However, as she begins to describe her business odyssey—starting a side project as a Stanford sophomore, and eventually dropping out because she was spending so much time speaking with venture capitalists—you quickly appreciate both her talent and determination.
After operating in stealth mode for the past ten years, the company Holmes built—called Theranos—is now fully launched and making waves in the diagnostic testing world. Like other successful game-changing companies in Silicon Valley, she and her team have completely reimagined the entire end-to-end user experience—in this case the experience of having your blood drawn and getting back the lab results.
The Theranos experience begins with a disarmingly simple way to draw blood. A small heat pad is applied to your finger, and then a barely noticeable pin prick draws just one tiny drop of blood. Theranos then places your micro-sample in a specially designed “nanotainer.”
From there, your tiny sample is sent to their state-of the-art labs where they have re-engineered dozens of tests to run on small micro-samples of blood. Not only that, but test results are ready in a fraction of the time when compared to traditional labs. The Theranos site describes their process as “Answers at the speed of digital. Waiting for results is often the worst part of getting a test. With Theranos, you and your doctor can get answers back fast. Less waiting in fear. We’ve designed our systems to help you and your doctor view your results anywhere, anytime, to help you get the care you need when you need it.”
Not only are test results completed quickly, but they are delivered and displayed in a modern, remarkably easy to understand online dashboard that is accessible to both patients and healthcare providers.
Theranos is currently in the process of rolling out their testing centers through a major partnership with Walgreens, with initial centers already up and running Phoenix, AZ. Of course, all this technology comes with a price, and the Theranos prices are listed in full transparency on their website.
However, don’t expect to be paying more for this advanced testing! That’s because Theranos’ pricing is in many cases 50% – 90% less than the typical Medicare reimbursement rate. In fact, Holmes estimates that over the next 10 years, Theranos is poised to save government insurance programs in the US hundreds of billions of dollars in testing costs. They are also working with the US military to provide real-time diagnostics in trauma situations.
Theranos has global ambitions as well, and Holmes envisions a future in which accurate and inexpensive access to personal lab results becomes a fundamental human right. A decentralized testing infrastructure, supported by smartphones and Web access, will allow for anywhere lab testing to become a reality, even in the remotest parts of the world. Holmes points out that access to comprehensive testing in remote locations is a critical first step in providing appropriate healthcare delivery.
Looking ahead, Holmes describes that the ultimate mission of Theranos is to deliver universally affordable access to health data, while providing a great user experience, one person at a time. Although it’s too early to say whether Holmes and her team at Theranos can succeed in meeting these ambitious goals, the initial results look very healthy indeed…and at least one writer is actually looking forward to having his blood drawn!