This Entrepreneur Is Transforming Health Care With DIY Lab Testing

This Entrepreneur Is

Transforming Health Care With DIY Lab Testing

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Julia Cheek, CEO of the groundbreaking health care company EverlyWell, believes all people should be doing frequent blood testing, and they shouldn’t have to worry about the red tape of insurance or the complication of making doctors appointments to do so.

“People in this country are entitled legally to get the lab testing they want whenever they want,” says Cheek. “If you were to ask 99 percent of Americans, no one knows they have that right. And so there is this incredible delivery gap.”

Cheek’s platform, which has to date garnered $5 million from venture capitalists and strategic angels, is designed to fill that gap by empowering consumers to order, self-collect, and receive analysis of physician-approved lab results to treat and prevent diseases. Meant as a way to empower the consumer to take charge of his or her own health care and as a means to simplify the lab testing process, Cheek believes her company’s introduction to the market is perfectly timed.

“Deductibles have increased 70 percent over the past six years,” says Cheek, whose company is based in Austin, Texas. “Most people are now on high deductible healthcare plans, even on corporate insurance, and most people never meet their deductible. So what you deal with is a completely changing consumer rationale. You are now conditioned to know you are going to be spending money on healthcare. That fundamental change is one of the reasons that the timing is now right for consumer-driven companies to succeed.”

“I can get an HIV test, a pregnancy test and cigarettes at my local drugstore but I can’t get a thyroid test. It’s so frustrating for millions of women who have unexplainable conditions and feel like they are unable to empower themselves to fix the problem.”

The daughter of two lawyers, Cheek attended Vanderbilt University and went to business school at Harvard. It was at Harvard that the bright, focused Dallas native began to think seriously about entrepreneurship.

“When I was at business school at Harvard, an entire new set of opportunities just became apparent to me,” says Cheek. “The people who start companies were actually my classmates and I was no different from them. Had I not gone to HBS I would have never considered the entrepreneurial path as actually a career path.”

After working a few post-graduation stints at the Bush Presidential Center as well Moneygram, where Cheek served as the youngest Vice President in the firm, she found herself feeling sick.

“I had this weird unexplainable set of symptoms over a number of months; aches and pains, drowsiness, fatigue,” says Cheek. “I just felt really off and it persisted. I went to all these different specialists and even with great corporate insurance I still ended up paying over $2,000 dollars for lab testing out of pocket. In addition I would get all this paperwork in the mail, with no explanation of the results, no one calling me telling me what they meant and everyone saying I was fine.”

After countless tests and doctor visits, Cheek finally discovered that her symptoms were a result of vitamin deficiency, essentially cortisol burnout. It was from this experience that her idea for a new company was born. Cheek says she wanted to create a platform that would unite the ease of at-home lab testing (made popular by companies like 23andme) with in-house customer service via clinicians on staff to support customer results, as well as having a way to ingest and display data for consumers in a simple way. Enter EverlyWell.

“You have all these specialists trying to pinpoint major issues and yet they are missing the bigger picture.”

“DNA is such a hot topic in the healthcare space right now from a testing standpoint. There are so many implications from a research standpoint.”

In June 2015, Cheek officially incorporated her company with a small round from one angel investor. She hired a chief medical officer and began building the organizational framework for consumers to remotely test blood and urine and get detailed results all from the comfort of home.

EverlyWell, which works in conjunction with six certified laboratories, launched in beta in June 2016 with three tests; food sensitivity, woman’s fertility and heavy metals, working in conjunction. The site now offers 13 different tests including thyroid, metabolism, men’s health, and breast milk DHA testing, which the company is the exclusive provider of in the US. EverlyWell also offers a gifting feature, which allows for consumers to send tests to another person.

“What we learned from the early users was that women make all the health care purchasing decisions generally speaking,” says Cheek. “Our test menu was directed to what women would want and also what they would purchase for their families and partners.”

The company grew  from $14K in sales in June, 2015, to $250K in February, 2016.

In terms of insurance, Cheek says EverlyWell tests, which range between $69 to $399, are on par or more affordable than insurance offers (other than cardiovascular and HbA1c, as both can be free depending on the plan), and most definitely more affordable for consumers who are uninsured. Additionally, EverlyWell tests are covered by Flexible Spending and Health Savings Accounts.

“If you take each test out of pocket and compare it to the alternative it’s almost always signficicantly cheaper or the same,” said Cheek, adding that as an example, a comparable out of pocket fertility panel (EverlyWell’s is $399) can range between $1,500 and $2,000, while food sensitivity (which costs $199 through EverlyWell) is usually well over $1,000.

“Our long-term strategy is to get our prices down so nobody even has to think about insurance because a $30 test is just worth it,” she says.

Although drawing one’s own blood-which is necessary for many of the EverlyWell tests-may seem a daunting task, according to Cheek, instructional videos and tutorials provide clear instructions to take the guesswork out of it.

“To be honest when we launched in beta one of our questions about consumer behavior was how will that [self-drawing blood] go over?,” says Cheek. “I’m sure there is a number of people who self select out of the process because they don’t want to do that but it has not been an issue for all of our consumers [who have ordered].”

The platform currently has 8,000 paid customers across 46 states, but none in New York or New Jersey, as direct-to-consumer testing companies are forbidden by state mandate.

“When you think about health care many areas have tried to be disruptive but no one had really touched lab testing. It was still so archaic and such a huge market and no one [figured out] how to completely rethink the delivery model for the consumer.”

Next for the company will be offering a set of four different consumer genomics panels, in partnership with a large genomics company, set for later this year.

“For many years all the VC firms would say consumer-driven health care companies just don’t work. People don’t engage, they don’t care and they don’t spend money and were now proving that has completely shifted.”

Political Issue

To be sure, part of the EverlyWell model that is so appealing in today’s complicated world of healthcare is transparency of cost beforehand.

“Unfortunately if the Affordable Care act is repealed 25 million people will be left uninsured,” says Cheek. “We will be a parachute most likely for that population. My goal is to get our costs down as much as possible because we want this to be an affordable solution. We want to get it purchased on every shelf in CVS, that is our vision; the consumerization of lab testing.”

Cheek says she is focused on expanding EverlyWell in specific verticals as well, including B2B and increasing B2C awareness.

“How we view ourselves in this next phase is growing to be the testing partner for many different companies, whether that’s food and nutrition companies or physician networks or through corporate wellness companies that need their covered employee base to be tested multiple times a year,” says Cheek. “Those are all areas where we’ve determined they have no great solution.”

Cheek also plans to continue integrating telemedicine into the platform  (it is currently only available for EverlyWell’s sexual health panel) via partnerships with virtual physician networks that can deliver services via Facetime or a telephone call.

“Telling a consumer ‘we have your lab results, we’ve approved and authorized your physician consult and your prescription is called in, would be the goal,” says Cheek. “That’s already the workflow for sexual health so the more we can replicate that the better. It would be completely transformative,”

The Quick 10

  1. What’s the app you most use?

Slack and Instagram.

2.What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

This shouldn’t be my answer — but it’s definitely first, check my phone and then, ask Alexa for the forecast.

  1. Name a business mogul you admire.

Arianna Huffington.

  1. What product do you wish you had invented?

Third Love’s bras. I love them.

  1. What is your spirit animal?

Dolphin.

  1. What is your life motto?

No pressure, no diamonds.

  1. Name your favorite work day snack.

Pistachios.

  1. What’s something that’s always in your handbag?

My whole makeup bag since I apply it on the go.

  1. What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?

India.

  1. Desert Island. Three things, go.

My favorite forms of sustenance: coffee, cheese, and wine.

Belisa Silva

Belisa is an editor with more than 10 years of experience. Prior to SWAAY, she worked as freelance writer, covering lifestyle, fashion and beauty industries. Belisa was a Market Editor at Women's Wear Daily for five years, where she interviewed rockstar business women like Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Lopez and Iman. Belisa also contributes to Cosmetic Executive Women, where she highlights female executives making an impact in the beauty industry.

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