The act of testing blood hasn't come very far in the last couple of decades. The procedure has remained pretty much the same, forcing patients to give several vials of blood to ensure all the lab tests can be performed. Elizabeth Holmes is working to change all that. She's reinventing phlebotomy by offering quick and comprehensive diagnoses without needing much blood.
Holmes has been working on this method for the last decade, starting when she was just a sophomore at Stanford University. She eventually dropped out and used her tuition money to start a company called Theranos. It recently introduced a new blood-testing service at Walgreens pharmacy in Palo Alto, California, which is expected to be rolled out to testing centers all over the country.
"There are a billion tests done every year in the United States, but too many of them are done in the emergency room," Holmes told Wired. "If you were able to do some of those tests before a person gets checked into the ER, you’d start to see problems earlier; you’d have time to intervene before a patient needed to go to the hospital. If you remove the biggest barriers to these tests, you’ll see them used in smarter ways."
Rather than using a new vial of blood for every test, Theranos only needs one drop. This can be used to perform hundreds of lab tests, including everything from regular cholesterol checks to genetic analysis. The new process is also more accurate and cheaper than traditional blood tests.
"We can get results, on average, in less than four hours. And this can be very helpful for doctors and patients, because it means that someone could, for example, go to a Walgreens in the morning to get a routine test for something their doctor is tracking, and the physician can have the results that afternoon when they see the patient," Holmes said. "And we’re able to do all the testing using just a single microsample, rather than having to draw a dedicated tube for each type of test."
Additionally, Theranos is planning to make these blood tests much more accessible. The company will be charging less than 50 percent of the standard Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates. As an added bonus, all prices are listed on the website so there are no surprises. It costs, for example, $2.05 for blood typing, $2.99 for cholesterol, and $4.45 for iron. If every test in the U.S. were performed at these prices, Theranos says it would save Medicare $98 billion and Medicaid $104 billion over the next decade.