As we move further into the era of the quantified self, no metric is off limits for health-conscious consumers.
Forget the Fitbit. For consumers looking to track their personal health, at-home blood tests provide personal health metrics that offer insight into everything from disease to general wellness. As technology for at-home testing advances, diagnostic tests once only accessible at the doctor’s office are now available with the convenience that consumers expect in an Amazon age.
At-home blood testing has recently been given a wellness-themed makeover, taking the technology beyond disease detection. WellnessFX offers advanced analysis of blood, genetics, and the microbiome alongside actionable suggestions to improve diet and exercise. In November, the company launched its first at-home testing kit, the $111 Lifelong Vitality package, which monitors key markers of women’s health. (More expansive packages, which require a visit to a Quest Diagnostics testing center, sell for up to $925.)
“Healthcare is moving to the home,” Paul Jacobson, CEO of WellnessFX, told the Innovation Group. “Everything we’re doing is geared toward new technology that’s making the experience of collecting samples more convenient. As that happens, eventually you’re going to get your results on your cellphone directly. You’re probably going to be able to bypass labs.”
Blueprint for Athletes is a diagnostic service that conducts detailed blood tests to measure key indicators of muscle status, endurance, nutrition and other factors that impact athletic performance. With consumer versions of Blueprint test priced at $225 to $500, the company is aiming toward serious athletes willing to pay for any data-based insights into how they might improve their performance.
Nevertheless, convenient, at-home blood testing has also recently come in for criticism. The methods of Theranos, a Silicon Valley company that evangelized for similar technology, have been subjected to regulatory scrutiny and found lacking. But this hasn’t stopped the advance of the field overall, as specific tests become easier and more miniaturized.
InsideTracker, for example, analyzes biomarkers such as vitamin levels and cholesterol to give users personalized recommendations and an “inner age” metric. Home kits start at $199. Though once limited to elite athletes, the company’s user base has expanded in recent years. “Most of our users are in their thirties, forties and fifties, because at that age you see you are not immortal,” cofounder Gil Blander, biology PhD and former MIT research scientist, told Elle. “But some just want to lose weight; some want to sleep better.”
In November, a group of scientists at Imperial College London developed an HIV test so small it fit on the head of a USB stick. Although still in proof-of-concept stage, the at-home blood test could revolutionize how HIV patients monitor their treatment, allowing them to track levels of the virus over time.
“At the moment, testing often requires costly and complex equipment that can take a couple of days to produce a result,” said Dr. Graham Cooke, senior author of the research, in a release. “We have taken the job done by this equipment, which is the size of a large photocopier, and shrunk it down to a USB chip.”
The USB test requires just one drop of blood, which is analyzed on the tip of the device and can be uploaded to a computer. Users can track and store their own progress over time. While current tests for the amount of HIV in the blood can take up to three days to produce results, this new method takes less than 30 minutes.
Shaking up the diagnostic testing industry could potentially be very lucrative. The global blood testing market stands to reach $63 billion by 2024, according to Grand View Research. At-home testing is a rapidly growing slice of the pie: The direct-to-consumer lab test market was worth $131 million in 2015, up from just over $15 million in 2010. And the valuation of Theranos peaked at $9 billion before concerns emerged about the viability of its technology.
At-home diagnostic testing adds a data-driven component to wellness, giving consumers more control over their own health data. As consumers become more discerning in their approach to wellbeing, look for more tech-driven initiatives that bring, as Jacobson says, “the highest level of science possible to wellness.”
Header image courtesy Thomas Angus/Imperial College London.