I drove six hours to save $1100 — my experience with Theranos

I can now say that I’ve been to Enola, PA

While some were braving large crowds of shoppers on Black Friday or taking advantage of an abnormally warm November day in New York City, I decided to use my day off to drive 356 miles, a round trip journey from Brooklyn, NY to Enola, PA to have my blood drawn at a Theranos Wellness Center.

I had a lab order from my doctor for six blood tests and I knew that my insurance plan wouldn’t cover much of the costs. I don’t think I’m alone when it comes to insurance coverage and the black hole of information when it comes to out-of-pocket costs. I was also curious about Theranos from a design and user experience perspective. I had read about the company a few times and I was impressed that unlike most medical laboratories, Theranos publishes the cost of their tests on their website.

Theranos is going through a rough patch. Questions have been raised about their flagship testing product. They temporarily discontinued collecting and testing blood with their device that uses only a few drops of blood. They are now collecting vials of blood similar to typical medical laboratories. Despite this, Theranos’s cost transparency and customer friendly approach is something I wish more medical providers would embrace. I’m continually baffled at the customer service approach of the medical industry which continues to provide an opaque and confusing customer experience, especially when it comes to cost. In this post, I’ll relate my experience with Theranos and outline why their approach is a step in the right direction for medical customers.

Cost

Having faced two laboratory bills before that were in the thousands, I wasn’t eager to receive another bill that was going to blow a hole into my savings. I dug up a past laboratory bill that showed the itemized cost of each of the six tests I needed and how much was covered by my insurance. The following is a side-by-side comparison of the billed hospital laboratory charge, amount covered by insurance and the Theranos cost. The cost difference is truly staggering.

Cost breakdown between a hospital lab and Theranos

If I used the hospital laboratory, I would have needed to pay over $1100 to cover the cost that my insurance doesn’t cover. The total Theranos cost for all the tests was $63.29. With a cost so low, I didn’t even get my insurance card out of my wallet. On cost alone, Theranos wins by a huge margin.

Cost transparency

As I wrote earlier in this post, Theranos has a cost chart for tests.

Test costs available on the Theranos website

Typically for medical bloodwork, I would be directed by my doctor to visit the hospital laboratory usually located in the same building. There’s no discussion of cost before the procedure and asking anyone at the front desk is futile. Weeks later, I would receive a bill detailing the cost of the procedure and what insurance covers. I would be surprised how much these tests cost and how little my insurance covers.

Hospital and medical facilities: please provide medical costs in advance to your customers. If we know how much things are in advance, we can accept these charges or seek lower cost, comparable options. In terms of customer service and consumer expectations, knowing in advance is always preferable than getting a bill in the mail afterwards.

Simple and clear medical language

I appreciate that Theranos has placed clear language that provides the what, why and when.

Prior to Theranos, I have received lab results with no accompanying explanation. I’ve then used Google to decipher the results to make sure they are within acceptable ranges. On the Theranos website, I appreciate that the company has actually placed clear language that provides the what, why and when. It’s probably the clearest example of a company communicating well and not forcing us to do a Google hunting expedition for information.

Results

My lab results with some Drake

I received my test results four business days from when my blood was drawn. The results came in a well-designed, password protected pdf document that was easy to read with abnormal results clearly marked in the beginning of the document. Comparing the layout of these test results to prior test results issued by a different lab, there’s no question that the Theranos document communicates more effectively. Design matters, especially when it can alert someone to a life threatening issue.

I have no affiliation with Theranos. I’m just a person who wants to know what kind of costs I will face before I get a medical procedure. Medical industry: please take a cue from Theranos and provide cost transparency for your services. The model exists, all you need to do is adopt it.