Ten years ago Elizabeth Holmes was a Stanford sophomore skipping her classes to do what most college students would never dream of: talking to venture capitalists about funding an idea she knew could potentially change the world.
Now, the 30-year-old is taking time, pain, and money out of the equation when it comes to blood tests. Holmes has developed an ingenious way to run them so efficiently and inexpensively that she's shaken up a lab industry in need of a dire reboot. She's catapulted her company, Theranos, Inc., into a medical superstar, earning the label “healthcare's answer to Apple.”
With just a single, tiny drop of blood in Theranos' 'nanotainer' tube, which is smaller than a dime, almost 200 conditions can be tested for, including blood typing, cholesterol, HIV, syphilis, and respiratory virus.
The big draw of course, is that there is none. With just a small, one-time prick, all necessary information is obtained from your fingertip. Taking out multiple procedures for different tests out of the equation is a saving grace for any needle-fearing citizen (the medical term is 'trypanophobist,' and they make up about 10 percent of the population) and also extremely useful for vulnerable geriatric and neonatal patients.
Charging less than 50 percent of the standard Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates, Theranos says that it could save the two U.S. social insurance programs, used by some 78 million people according to the U.S. Census Bureau, anywhere from $98 to $104 billion in testing fees. Currently, most patients get medical tests done in hospital labs or independent companies, where prices can vary widely.
Just how big is the disparity? A recent San Francisco Business Times article featured the case of Kathy Meinhardt, a Bay area graphic designer who was charged $464.81 at one lab and $4,316.55 for identical blood work tests.
ABC News also interviewed Meinhardt for an investigation on high blood test costs and found that these prices are kept hidden from the public, too. From their report:
“Another obstacle to price transparency is what health policy experts refer to as “gag clauses,” actual language in contracts between health plans and health care providers that specifically forbids the sharing of pricing information with consumers. In fact, ABC News was not able to obtain exact negotiated rates for several lab tests Meinhardt had.”
Transparency is another arena where Theranos trumps its competition. It lists all pricing, individually categorized on its website. A cholesterol test for example is $2.99. An Epstein-Barr Antibody Panel which checks for the presence of mononnucleosis, the infamous 'kissing disease' ever present on college campuses, is $12.47.
The company, based in Palo Alto, recently partnered with Walgreens, working to bring affordable, high-quality lab testing to as many people as possible.
Holmes says she drew inspiration from her socially conscious parents, including a dad who worked in disaster relief.
“I knew I wanted to do something that could make a different in the world, and to me there was nothing greater I could build than something that could change the reality in our healthcare system today,” she told Medscape Editor-in-Chief Eric Topol last year.
Holms also said the company sees integration of data with smart phones in the future as a “huge area of opportunity.”