What’s Driving the Boom in At-Home Medical Tests?

Some say direct-to-consumer diagnostic kits, currently available for everything from food sensitivity to Lyme disease, offer the convenience and low cost that a doctor’s visit lacks. Others argue they’re more harmful than helpful.

Erin Schumaker
Elemental
Published in
5 min readMay 15, 2019

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Credit: Vesna Jovanovic / EyeEm/Getty Images

InIn 2017, Julia Cheek broke a record on ABC’s Shark Tank: The show’s judges awarded her a $1 million deal for her company, EverlyWell, marking the largest investment a solo female entrepreneur had received in the show’s history.

EverlyWell, an at-home medical testing business, currently offers testing panels for conditions as varied as food sensitivity, menopause, and HPV. Cheek stresses that it’s a middleman service, not a diagnostic company: Customers collect their swabs and samples privately, then send them to a lab for analysis. “The tests offered through EverlyWell and those ordered in a physician’s office and processed at traditional brick-and-mortar labs are the same,” she says.

According to Cheek, less than three years into its operation, EverlyWell has seen 300% year-over-year customer growth, making it a powerful player in the rapidly growing category of direct-to-consumer testing companies and products. Others include Thorne, which, among other things, sells urine tests to monitor sleep patterns and saliva tests to assess stress; LetsGetChecked, which offers tests for diseases like Lyme and diabetes; OraQuick for diagnosing HIV; and home kits for thyroid problems, cholesterol, and urinary tract infections.

Not everyone agrees that home testing is a good idea. Some health care experts are skeptical of these tests in general, and some tests from EverlyWell in particular. Last year, for example, the medical website STAT News called EverlyWell’s food sensitivity test “medically dubious” and noted that the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology had recently recommended against the same specific food-allergy test that EverlyWell sells, arguing that it is “irrelevant for the laboratory work-up of food allergy or intolerance and should not be performed in case of food-related complaints.”

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