Government & Technology Medical Technology Start Ups

An Almost Great Palo Alto Start Up: Theranos

theranos walgreens

Theranos is disrupting technology at its best. Almost. Theranos the company is a great idea that will make life easier, less expensive, and put power in the hands of people. Almost.

Explanation: Theranos is changing the way blood testing is done. Instead of big vials of blood, 48 hour wait time and big costs, they have developed a procedure to test blood from a micro sample, analyze results almost instantly and cut costs dramatically. It will be available at places such as Walgreens. Looks like the end of labs, couriers, high costs and 48 hour delays in getting your results. (Actually, I have no idea how long people wait for blood tests from a doctor’s office. I order my own and the results are emailed to me in 48 hours. YMMV).

So far so good. Faster, cheaper and less painful. Can’t argue with that. But here’s the problem:

On their website, Theranos says, “We believe you have the right to your own health information.”

I want to say to that – of course we do. Who would think otherwise? But I live in a parallel universe when it comes to medical care, so bear with me. Yet, everywhere I look on their website I keep seeing sentences reflecting the status quo, the accepted medical paradigm: you are a patient and a doctor will be involved.

Here’s the way it works, according to their site:
“You can make an appointment or simply walk into any Theranos Wellness Center with any paper order given to you by your doctor. Or you can simply have your doctor submit your order electronically. And since we’re open early mornings, nights, weekends, even some holidays, we’re always easy to fit into your schedule.”

Where does that leave me? And all the rest of us that believe we have a right to our own health information (and not just as a slogan) – as well as health care. I order my own tests, decide what I need. I don’t beg a doctor for a test, I just order it. I don’t wait for anyone to charge me for the right to order a test and have to explain why I need it. Life Extension has changed the game by allowing the consumer to bypass the middleman: the MD. see For $4.50 a month (cancel anytime) you can order your own lab tests, including cancer tests from a local lab. I live in downtown Palo Alto and can walk to my lab. (Lab Corp)

Look at this – how is this putting power in the hands of people?

– We’ve beeen working to create a system designed to help you and your doctor know more

– Your results are delivered to your doctor electronically within minutes after our lab completes your tests.

– When your doctor releases your results,

– With Theranos, you and your doctor can get answers back fast.

When asked to fill out a form on the site to get more information the choices are Provider, Patient, or Other.

UGH. I am OTHER. But I am not an Other. If people are to be empowered we are people, not patients. I am no one’s patient.

Unless you have experienced the freedom of really being in charge of your own medical care you cannot understand why I hesitate to endorse yet another system of “you and your doctor”. I had my genetic testing done at 23andme It’s $99 and I get hundreds of data points. I know more about my health than a zillion doctor visits could provide. I can change my diet or lifestyle to impact my genetics – the field of epigenetics is my new interest. I can download my raw data. I can let have access to it and in 10 seconds I have my methylation analysis and detox analysis (yes, I have mutations – and oh what a difference it makes in what I do to know this. It matters whether I take folic acid or methylfolate, for example.) And I have mutations in my detox pathways which explains a lot. But what doctor knows about this? Damn if I know one here. Do you?

When my friend tested he was high risk for Type 2 diabetes. When he went into Stanford he was given a drug that causes diabetes. We told his doctors and offered them the genetic tests (same ones used to teach at Stanford). The MD’s said, “NO, we don’t care and we don’t want to see the genetic test results.” They gave him the drug, and when he came out I ordered a blood test for him and he was now diabetic. Then he developed diabetic neuropathy in his hand and had to quit his job. I would never have allowed the drug, but he has a case of white coat syndrome. He couldn’t believe the Stanford doctors would actually give him a drug known to cause diabetes. But they did and when they called to talk to me about him and I reminded them of his risk, they shined it on and said, “Well, we are in fact increasing the dosage.”

This is stupidity at its institutional worst. It is incomprehensible that such a violation of medical ethics goes on. My friend, a judge, said, “Sue.” I would but it isn’t me, it is my friend and he is less proactive in such matters. My engine of injustice revs at a higher level.

I give this example to say, Theranos, you are brilliant in your tech. I applaud what you have done and the disruption you provide. But OMG = we do NOT need the middleman here. Take a page from Life Extension and find a way to really empower people and really make a difference. How can people like me use your tech?

I know – you don’t need me. I project huge success for you – and you will deserve it. After all, the arena needs change and you are providing it in an excellent manner and most people trust a doctor for ordering tests (and yes, there are laws) but oh, we really need disruption when it comes to medical empowerment and Obamacare is not it. Obamacare reminds me of the old joke: Yes, the food was bad, but there was a lot of it.

I digress. Congratulations, Theranos, but help me too.

SEE the Theranos post on the very interesting Board of Directors: The Theranos Board

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  • Reply
    October 5, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    I agree 100%. I think all the “work with your doctor” text is that they are a disruptive technology that takes the AMA out of the picture just a little more. You can’t ride up on the home teams field shouting unless you brought your entire away team fans. Small companies are often forced to close or bought out just to bench them. (Do a quick google or even watch shark tank to see innovators who are disruptive to a major players revenue stream and what happens. theranos is just playing it safe so they don’t get squashed before they have a chance to thrive.

  • Reply
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    November 5, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Right On, Ann. I strongly suspect Theranos intends to go just where you (and I!) want them to go, but, as Tim indicates above, they choose to fight one battle at a time.

    Since first composing this comment, I’ve discovered from a later (Oct 21) post of yours that Theranos’ doctor-oriented language evidently was an afterthought on their part. In any case, I believe it was a very wise decision.

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  • Reply
    Knog Wag
    May 13, 2014 at 9:14 am

    What a whiner.

  • Reply
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    […] The cost, I don’t know for you.  It is $175.00 at Life Extension or $93 if you are a member.  Your lab and or doctor will  of course have its own price. This price is when you want to order it on your own, go through Life Extension and use Lab Corps for the blood draw.  I checked with Theranos, the discount blood labs, and they don’t even offer it. see our posts on Theranos, The Almost Great Palo Alto Start Up. […]

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    James Amule
    September 18, 2014 at 3:39 am

    I am just wondering how Theranos will empower Sub Saharan Africans since there are no Walgreen chains and Theranos Wellness Centres in Africa. Will sub saharan patients have to contact one of the Walgreen chains and Wellness Centres in the USA?
    I think Theranos’ test lab is a must for Africa-especially NOW at this time of EBOLA epidemics.A trrial of it in my opinion would be good.

    • Reply
      Douglas Gaea
      December 3, 2014 at 1:27 am

      Think globally James. Europe, Asia, South America, North America, Africa.
      Why limit your horizon to sub-saharan Africa? Who says it has to be Walgreens or any US based company for that matter? Ebola, SARs, HN1, AIDS etc. Who knows what’s next and where it will appear!!

      • Reply
        Ann Bradley
        December 3, 2014 at 1:41 am

        I agree. This company is wiorth billions with a military board. Think globally and think partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and all divisions of the military. Their continued stealth mode is interesting.

  • Reply
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