Blood tests are a necessary part of life. But just like a visit to the dentist, most people would consider it a chore – begrudgingly done as part of a check-up or when experiencing unexplained symptoms. They generally require an appointment and, for many tests, require the expertise of a doctor to explain the results. Then there’s the needle, which an estimated 35 percent of all people have a fear of.
The Lithuanian start-up Revolab is trying to change our uneasy relationship with blood tests. They offer home-testing kits – delivered to your door within an hour in the form of a simple cartridge that tests blood via a small finger prick. It’s a similar method to what people with diabetes do.
“It’s a solution for people who are afraid of big needles or children who are afraid of doctors,” says Jekaterina Kaliniene, CEO of Revolab.
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She and her husband, Ovidijus Kalinas, founded the company during the pandemic as an answer to people’s reluctance to leave their homes. They offer a wide variety of tests: from simple blood screens to vitamin deficiency tests, and even for signs of cancer. You apply the test yourself, put it back in the mailbox, and the results come via an app in under 24 hours.
Revolab is not the first start-up to try this, but they hope to be one of the few that has succeeded. They are CE certified by the European Union and are pending approval for use by the US Food and drug Administration. They are also backed by EIT Digital – a European Union backed innovation incubator. One of the ways they are setting themselves apart is by providing interpretations of test results in layman’s terms directly in their app. The idea is to take the guesswork out of lab results.
“What people do is they start googling their results,” explains Kaliniene. “That’s what causes people to ‘find illnesses.’ I used to work in a testing lab in Lithuania and half of our calls were asking about what the results meant.”
It uses an algorithm that, based on ‘health norms’, gives a description of the results and an action plan. A cholesterol test, for example, might say your cholesterol is too high and give some ideas of how to bring the levels down. In the future, it will also incorporate machine learning to create more personalized read out.
Should all results come through an app?
On the surface, the offer of Revolab is a logical next step in granting us the ability to better monitor our health. It follows the mantra of check early, check often. They even have a subscription model for people who want to be more careful. However, when it comes to more serious tests – such as early signs of cancer – having a non-personalized app may lead to other issues.
“You need to be very careful what type of measurement you are using to check for these types of conditions,” says dr. Erik Buskens, Professor of Health Technology Assessment at the University of Groningen. “For prostate specific antigen measuring, for example, a high PSA does not necessarily mean your length and quality of life will be affected. For most people, it has no clinical effect.”
Cancer is certainly best treated when caught early, but Buskens warns of the inverse effect: over-diagnoses and over-treatment. While Revolab’s app will always direct someone to see a doctor if something is wrong, it isn’t yet completely personalized. It relies on a ‘warning system’ where green means healthy, yellow means no need to see a doctor yet, and red means go right away. They also cost 65 euros per ‘signs of cancer’ test.
“Sometimes diagnoses don’t lead to healthier lives or longevity of life but just make you worried,” says Buskens. “Who wants that?”
Using technology to promote healthy aging
While this innovation may not, yet, be personalized enough for more complicated tests, there are health stats that are objectively good to know. People following specific diets benefit from knowing if they are getting all the vitamins they need. Knowing if you have high blood pressure and what lifestyle changes to bring it down is generally a good idea. The same goes for high cortisol and stress.
These are all tests that Revolab offers. And while the platform could benefit from greater personalization, even sceptics like Buskens would agree that having easy access to health monitoring can help promote a healthy lifestyle.
“You need to look at this case by case,” says Buskens. “What type of biomarkers, what type of measurements and what type of advice do you give to the individual based on future perspective in terms of treatment and form.”
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