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The Innovative Blood-Drawing Technique That’s Pain-Free and Saves Money

August 8, 2014
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The Innovative Blood-Drawing Technique That’s Pain-Free and Saves Money
A laboratory technician checks human blood samples. David Silverman/Getty Images
Adopting this method (patented by a college dropout) could save our country billions.

Most 19 year olds spend their days hanging out with friends, not revolutionizing American healthcare. But that’s not the case with Elizabeth Holmes who dropped out of Stanford to start the company, Theranos.

During her freshman year in college, Holmes took chemical engineering professor Channing Robertson’s seminar on advanced drug-delivery devices (aka, things like patches and pills). After completing a summer internship at the Genome Institute in Singapore, she hit upon her first idea: a patch that simultaneously delivered medication and collected data about the patient to inform their doctors with.

Holmes dropped out of school to work on a patent for that product and to launch her company using the rest of her college savings.

That invention was the first of many that the now 30-year-old CEO would develop. According to Fortune, Holmes is listed as a co-inventor on 82 U.S. and 189 foreign patent applications. Eighteen in the U.S. have been granted.

When Holmes first told Robertson about her plan to drop out, Robertson told Fortune, “I said, ‘Why do you want to do this?’ And she said, ‘Because systems like this could completely revolutionize how effective health care is delivered. And this is what I want to do. I don’t want to make an incremental change in some technology in my life. I want to create a whole new technology, and one that is aimed at helping humanity at all levels regardless of geography or ethnicity or age or gender.'”

As Holmes set to work on her company, she shifted from her initial idea to one about developing a revolutionary way to run diagnostic tests on very small amounts of blood — just a drop — instead of the full vials most labs need.

She came up with a technique that not only minimizes the discomfort, but also enables doctors to run dozens of tests on just one sample — and it delivers the results efficiently and inexpensively. They’re so affordable, in fact, that no test costs more than half of the allowed Medicare reimbursement for it. Fortune writer Roger Parloff says, “with widespread adoption [this] could save the nation billions.”

And that’s just part of Holmes’s next plan for Theranos. The company is partnering with Walgreens, whose stores currently host 21 patented Theranos blood-drawing facilities. They’re all in Phoenix and Palo Alto for now, but the drug-store chain plans to gradually add them nationwide. Holmes’s eventual goal? For just about every American to have a Theranos facility within five miles.

In addition to the cost savings and the minimized discomfort, Holmes’ technique allows for more frequent blood draws in people with conditions that require it, so that doctors can better monitor the fluctuations in their health.

Holmes said, “Anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent of people, when they’re given a requisition by a doctor to go get tested, don’t, because they’re scared of needles or the locations are inconvenient or the cost is too high. And if you’re not even getting tested, how is it possible that we’re going to move toward an era of preventive medicine?”

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