How An Undergraduate Vision Is Revolutionizing Medical Testing

I feel that it is safe to assume that most people do not enjoy having blood drawn. And if you’re like me, the idea of some one sticking you with a needle and draining your blood is enough to send you into full-blown panic mode.  So when I came across an article that presented a method for a painless, needle-free way to draw blood- I was intrigued.

In 2003, as a 19-year-old studying nanotechnology at Stanford University, Elizabeth Holmes had a vision to remake the way lab testing is done. After meeting with some of her professors, she made the decision to drop out and pursue her vision full time.  Today, she is the CEO of a company called Theranos, a health technology and medical lab that has developed an inexpensive, quick, and accurate blood test by using one tiny, finger prick of blood. Her mission, as she explains, is to enable very early detection of diseases, even before symptoms materialize, when there is the best chance of a cure.

Theranos’s tests can be performed on just a few drops of blood, or about 1/100th to 1/1,000th of the amount that would ordinarily be required–an extraordinary potential benefit to frequently tested hospital patients or cancer victims, the elderly, infants, children, the obese, those on anticoagulants, or simply anyone with an aversion to blood draws. Theranos phlebotomists–technicians licensed to take blood–draw it with a finger stick using a patented method that minimizes even the minor discomfort involved with that procedure. This is an important point because it minimizes patient discomfort and improves patient experience.  If patients have a positive experience- meaning one without pain, long waits, and high costs- they are more likely to return for follow up. Patients can begin taking a proactive approach to their health care, rather than trying to do damage control once a health issue has already manifested itself.

So what does this mean?

Currently about 80% of clinical decisions are made based on lab results from blood testing. But most physicians don’t have the best actionable information to make the best possible decision when it matters. The fact that Theranos’s technology uses such small amounts of blood saves patients time, money, and the pain of follow-up doctor visits and additional blood draws.

In an effort to remain transparent in their cost and affordable to consumers, Theranos recently struck a partnership with Walgreens to build thousands of Wellness Centers. Every center would offer a menu of blood tests — ranging from cancer to cholesterol — directly to consumers. And every test would cost only a fraction of what Medicare pays.

When patients have a lab test done, traditionally, in order for that test to be paid for, you have to have a symptom so doctors can write in a code for a lab form. When you dramatically reduce the price of these tests, preventative testing starts to become possible. Holmes explains it like this- rather than occasionally seeing a snapshot of what is taking place inside your body from time to time, people will be able to watch it like a movie. Holmes claims that, just by looking, she can tell the difference between the blood of a person who recently ate broccoli compared to someone who recently ate a cheeseburger.  Imagine how much more engaged in our health we would become if we were able to regularly test our blood to monitor what is going on inside our body.  In the future, physicians will be able to use this technology to entice patients

Additionally, it’s not just the blood draws that are tiny. The space required to perform Theranos’s tests is significantly less than other labs, making it possible to picture placing Holmes’s labs right by operating rooms, in military helicopters, on ships and submarines, in the African jungle… virtually anywhere! Many feel that her product is a revolutionary step in transforming the health care industry in America and around the world.

As with most new practices, there are a few skeptics.  Theranos skeptics worry about putting diagnostic results in patients’ hands without doctors present and being able extract enough blood to perform all the tests it claims.

The tests aren’t available everywhere yet, currently just Arizona and California, but Holmes says she working as fast as she can to roll out into the next states.

Bailey Woodling

Bailey works as assistant account executive and social media manager here at Jennings.

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