As clinical laboratory self-testing expands, sharing of test results with healthcare providers becomes even more essential to optimize health outcomes
Survey data collected by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation (IHPI) indicates that consumer interest in direct-to-consumer (DTC) medical self-testing is growing. In fact, DTC testing appears to be more popular ever, even among older adults who were asked how they feel about performing clinical laboratory self-testing and specimen collecting for certain illnesses.
According Michigan Medicine’s MHealth Lab, “82% of older adults say that in the future, they would be somewhat or very interested in taking a medical test at home.”
Dark Daily has written regularly about this trend and how leaders need a strategy to serve this class of consumer. That strategy could include collecting the self-test results from consumers and keeping a complete record of consumers’ clinical laboratory test results from inpatient, outpatient, and self-test settings.
“As more companies bring these direct-to-consumer [medical] tests to market and buy ads promoting them, it’s important for healthcare providers and policymakers to understand what patients might be purchasing, what they’re doing with the results, and how that fits into the broader clinical and regulatory picture,” said research scientist Jeffrey Kullgren, MD (above), Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan in a press release. Clinical laboratories may find opportunities to support patients’ self-testing in tandem with the physicians who treat them. (Photo copyright: University of Michigan.)
Importance of Sharing Clinical Laboratory Self-Test Results
Individuals responding to the poll were asked only about medical laboratory self-tests they had purchased themselves either online or at a retail store. Tests provided to respondents by a healthcare provider or given to them for free were not part of the survey.
The researchers discovered that 48% of respondents had purchased at least one variety of at-home health tests in the past. The types of tests bought included:
Tests for infections other than COVID-19, such as urinary tract infections or HIV (4%), and
Other types of at-home tests, including those for allergies and food sensitivities (10%).
Approximately 82% of the respondents said they would be somewhat or very interested in taking at-home medical tests and nine out of 10 believed the test results should be shared with their doctors. But only 55% of respondents who had taken an at-home medical test and received positive results for infection other than COVID-19 had shared those results with their primary care physician.
However, 90% of respondents who had purchased a self-test for cancer screening did provide their doctors with the results.
“As we have seen in COVID-19, it’s important to share results from a home test with a provider so that it can be used to guide your care and be counted in official statistics,” said Jeffrey Kullgren, MD, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan in an IHPI press release. Kullgren, a primary care physician and healthcare researcher at Michigan Medicine and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, directed the IHPI poll.
Not All Medical Self-Tests Are Regulated by the FDA
The most prominent reason for wanting to use at-home tests was convenience and 59% of those surveyed felt that the results could be trusted.
The poll also found that 53% of older adults believe at-home medical tests are regulated by the federal government, which isn’t always the case. Many at-home medical tests are reviewed by the federal US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but not all such tests receive full FDA review.
The FDA, however, offers an online, searchable database consumers can use to determine if a certain over-the-counter test is regulated by the FDA.
“Home tests can be a convenient way for older adults to check if they have an illness, such as COVID-19” stated Indira Venkat, Senior Vice President, AARP Research in the press release. “But consumers should make sure they know whether the test they are taking is FDA-approved, and how their health or genetic information might be shared.”
Other interesting outcomes of the research include:
The purchasing of at-home COVID-19 tests was highest among those between the ages of 50 and 64 when compared to the 65 to 80 age group, but there were no age differences for other types of at-home tests.
Respondents who are married or have who more education and/or higher household incomes were more likely to have purchased at-home tests.
Blacks were less likely to buy at-home medical tests than Whites or Hispanics.
Interest for at-home tests was higher among women than men.
Advertising swayed 44% of purchasing respondents to buy a DNA test and 11% to buy a cancer screening test.
Are DTC Home Tests as Accurate as Clinical Laboratory Testing?
At-home medical self-testing and sample collection is becoming accepted and established with consumers and the medical community, which is drawing attention to the accuracy of these tests and how clinical laboratories are being affected by the trend.
The findings of this recent survey of older consumers is just the latest evidence that at-home self-testing for everything from COVID to cancer is here to stay. Clinical laboratories should be looking for ways to serve this patient population and the physicians who treat them.
As consumer demand increases for medical laboratory testing services that bypass the supervision of primary care doctors, clinical laboratories may be affected
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing organizations and telecommunications companies in South Korea are collaborating to help consumers stay informed of their health status by sending lab test results directly to their mobile devices without requiring physician involvement. What can labs in the West learn from these developments?
Founded in 2015, NGeneBio provides smartphone-based healthcare services for individuals who solicit genetic testing. Through the partnership, KT plans to combine its knowledge of artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing with NGeneBio’s genetic decoding expertise to “provide services such as tailored health management (diet and exercise therapy) services, and storage and management of personal genome analysis information.”
No Doctors Involved?
Outside of genealogy, the general intent of DTC genetic testing is to equip consumers with certain genetic data that may help them manage their healthcare without requiring visits to their healthcare provider. The healthcare information provided through the NGeneBio venture will include data delivered directly to customers’ smartphones on the status of their:
According to an article in Korean business news publication Pulse, “Genetic test services in Korea are restricted to some 70 categories, such as the analysis of the risk of hair loss, high blood pressure, and obesity.”
Last September, Pulse reported, Korean mobile carrier SK Telecom Co. announced a similar partnership with Macrogen Inc. to introduce a mobile app-based DNA testing service called “Care8 DNA.” To utilize this service, consumers order a DNA test kit, take a saliva sample via mouth swab, and then send the kit to a clinical laboratory for analysis. Users typically receive their test results on the Care8 DNA app (available from both Google Play and Apple’s App Store) within a few weeks.
The service costs ₩8,250 South Korean won ($7.36 US) per month. A one-year subscription to the service costs ₩99,000 won or $88.36 US. The Care8 DNA app features 29 testing services, including:
possibility of hair loss,
resistance to nicotine,
the body’s recovery speed after exercise,
Along with those results, consumers can receive personalized health coaching guidance from professionals like nutritionists and exercise physiologists to improve their overall wellbeing, Pulse noted.
In February 2019, Macrogen became the first company in South Korea to take advantage of the government’s relaxed regulations on DTC genetic testing, Korea Biomedical Review reported. In addition to the basic services offered through the Care8 DNA app, Macrogen’s DTC tests also can cover 13 diseases, including:
“A DTC genetic test is a contactless healthcare service suitable for the COVID-19 era. The expansion of detailed test items allows users to comprehensively check nutrients, obesity, skin, hair, eating habits, and exercise characteristics at one time,” an official at Theragen Bio told Korea Biomedical Review. “We expect that our service will attract more attention from consumers.”
What Can Be Learned?
Countries in Asia—particularly South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—are among the fastest adopters of new technology in the world. Thus, it can be instructive to see how their consumers use healthcare differently than in the West, and how those users embrace new technologies to help them manage their health.
It is not certain how all this will impact clinical laboratories and genetic doctors in the western nations. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing has had its ups and downs, as Dark Daily reported in multiple e-briefings.
Nevertheless, these developments are worth watching. Worldwide consumer demand for genetic home testing, price transparency, and easy access to test results on mobile devices is increasing rapidly.
If direct-to-consumer testing continues to attract healthcare consumers and financial investors, medical laboratories could have a new source of revenue
Many have tried but few have found the right formula to
offer medical laboratory tests directly to consumers. Direct-to-consumer lab
testing as a robust business model has been an elusive goal. But now one
entrepreneur wants to crack this market and just attracted $50 million in
venture capital to fund her idea!
Outsiders often establish industries. This was the case when Jeff Bezos created Amazon in 1994. The online retailer transformed the way books were sold and, subsequently, established a massive new retail market.
Along the same lines, Julia Taylor Cheek, Founder and CEO of EverlyWell, a well-financed digital health company based in Austin—hopes to build a similarly disruptive business in the clinical laboratory industry.
Cheek is increasing her company’s outreach to consumers by
putting some of the company’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) medical tests on store
shelves at CVS and Target.
A former consultant and Harvard Business School graduate, Cheek raised $50 million in financing to expand EverlyWell’s digital platform. According to a news release, “Just two full years into operation, EverlyWell is reporting 300% year-over-year customer growth and a world-class consumer Net Promoter Score (NPS).”
“I think it’s a representation of sexism in our space. There are 15 other companies that have popped up in blood testing and you don’t hear anyone comparing Theranos to those male-founded startups,” she told Inc.
However, Dark Daily believes Cheek may be missing one
basis for the comparison with Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes intended for Theranos to
serve consumers with lab testing, and let consumers order and purchase their
own medical laboratory tests. Cheek is talking about the same primary business
strategy of letting consumers purchase their own lab tests.
Armed with this additional financing from investors, EverlyWell intends to expand services and develop new partnerships with retail pharmacy chain CVS Health (NYSE:CVS) and for-profit insurance company Humana (NYSE:HUM).
The news release notes, “The company has also expanded its
product line to offer 35 panels, including first-to-market tests in fertility,
vitamins, peri- and post-menopause, and high-risk HPV. In addition, EverlyWell
has launched an end-to-end care model for consumers, now offering an
independent physician consult and prescription, if appropriate, for select STDs
and Lyme Disease testing. All of this is included in an upfront price before
EverlyWell Intent on
Bringing Medical Laboratory Tests to Retail
Earlier this year, EverlyWell made nine lab tests available in more than 1,600 Target store locations, MedCity News reported. This may suggest that retailers are intrigued with direct-to-consumer lab testing.
Cheek reportedly established EverlyWell after becoming
disenchanted with medical laboratory tests that she felt were not well
explained and too costly under high-deductible health plans.
Just two years on, EverlyWell reports “hundreds of thousands of customers and tens of millions in sales.” The company plans to add additional staff on top of its existing 70 employees in anticipation of the new funding, Austin Business Journal reports.
“We are building a consumer brand, which means we have to be where people shop. We need to be in places like CVS and Target to really allow for broader distribution and name recognition,” Cheek told the Austin American-Statesman.
What Draws People to EverlyWell?
EverlyWell offers home health test kits, priced from $49 to
$400 that people can order without a doctor’s prescription and pay for online. Users
take their samples (saliva, urine, or a pinprick of blood) with provided
lancets and cotton swabs, MedCity News
EverlyWell’s top selling tests are:
Vitamin D deficiency-$99.
EverlyWell says it is “first” in direct-to-consumer tests
EverlyWell Test kits come with registration information, instructions, collection tools;
Biological samples are sent by consumers to CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments)-certified labs that partner with EverlyWell;
Results are generally completed within 10 days depending on type of test and business volume;
A physician reviews the test results;
Reports on test results are electronically accessible through smartphone apps and online web dashboards.
“Lab testing is arguably one of the most important steps in preventing and managing illness but has been largely ignored by digital health companies. EverlyWell is successfully navigating an entrenched industry to offer consumers an opportunity to take charge of their own health,” said Eric Kim, Managing Partner at Goodwater Capital (which led the financing), in the news release.
“We’re building the definitive technology-enabled healthcare platform that consumers deserve and have already come to expect in other areas of their lives,” Cheek told VentureBeat. “As high-deductible plans become the norm, consumers are becoming discerning buyers who look for seamless, digitally enabled experiences.”
Of course, pathologists and medical laboratory professionals
will watch to see if EverlyWell can sustain its rapid rise in popularity with
healthcare consumers. In particular, those consumers who prefer DTC testing
over traditional clinical laboratory visits and who may be on high-deductible
The DTC test market represents an opportunity that most
clinical laboratories have yet to take seriously. There are many reasons why
medical lab managers and pathologists would be taking a “wait and see”
attitude. Meanwhile, EverlyWell has $50 million of investors’ money to use to
demonstrate the financial viability of its strategy to encourage consumers to purchase
their own clinical laboratory tests—and even collect their own specimens at
It’s not just in the United States that Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) medical laboratory tests are coming under criticism, as reported in recent weeks by Dark Daily. Two prominent organizations in the United Kingdom (UK) have issued reports with serious criticisms of what are known as “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY) clinical laboratory tests in that country.
Of course, many pathologists and clinical laboratory managers here in the United States know that multiple government agencies have spent the last year scrutinizing the DTC market. There is the possibility that new regulations and laws enacted as a result of these investigations could not only bring DTC genetic testing under tighter government oversight, but these same regulations might also ensnare certain genetic tests and medical laboratory assays that have appropriate uses in clinical care.