theranosWhile health consumers in America have more skin in the game in terms of paying more via high-deductible health plans and out-of-pocket costs, they are largely unempowered when it comes to diagnostic testing in labs. Theranos is working to change that and empower consumers to access convenient lab testing and get results quickly and online.

Describing the lab-disempowerment story in a Wall Street Journal op-ed dated July 28, Elizabeth Holmes writes about How to Usher In a New Era of Preventive Health Care. Holmes is the founder and CEO of Theranos (named by joining the words “therapy” and “diagnosis”), a health technology company focused on consumer-facing lab testing.

Holmes writes, “many of us get lab tests only when we’re showing symptoms, which means we may already be sick. And too many of us find out we’re sick when it’s too late to change the course of these conditions. It’s time to move away from reactive health care.”

From a pure health economics standpoint, Theranos’ tests can be  a low-cost option for a consumer paying out-of-pocket or another payor sponsoring health plan. Theranos’ tests are 50% or more below the Medicare reimbursement rate, for a full range of tests from fertility panels ($35) to simple cholesterol tests ($2.99). The company’s mission is to provide transparency in lab testing, lab proficiency testing scores, and other metrics.

Last week, Theranos hosted Vice President Joe Biden on a tour of the company’s Newark, CA facility as part of a preventive health summit. Biden remarked, “What’s most impressive to me is you’re not only making these lab tests more accessible, you’re charging historically low prices, which is a small fraction of what is charged now, while maintaining the highest standards, and empowering people whether they live in the barrio or a mansion, putting them in a position to help take control of their own health.”

Theranos in WalgreensOn the retail front, Theranos partners with Walgreens, the pharmacy chain, as a channel for lab testing in Theranos Wellness Centers. By partnering with Theranos beginning November 2014, Walgreens was the first to market with a low-cost, direct-to-consumer option for blood testing — long the controlled province of physicians and clinical laboratories.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Theranos has a good example of the “we’re sick and it’s too late to change the course” scenario in the July 15th 2015 FDA approval of a waiver for Theranos to do herpes simplex virus 1 tests in retail health channels. There, consumers can get results in real time, “on the spot,” instead of having to wait for results. When it comes to testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), this is a good thing.

VP Biden’s point that people — patients — can be empowered, from the barrio to the mansion, is key in this DIY, Maker Health era where people must grow the muscles of health consumers. It’s hard to shop for health care — that takes price transparency, quality measures, and access. Theranos, which provides CLIA-certified labs (which is the quality mark for diagnostic lab testing environments), is accessible through a pharmacy chain that is located with five miles of 75% of Americans.

Theranos has broken down one of the strongest patient/provider barriers in the U.S. health care market. Now patients with financial skin in the game can be exercise clinical muscles, as well.