2012-01-30

Co.Exist

WellnessFX: A New Model For Premium Preventative Medicine

After running your blood through an exhaustive number of tests, the new health company will project your future illnesses and give you a plan to stop them. It’s pricey, but so is going to the emergency room.

You can sense that something is unique about the WellnessFX office immediately upon stepping in. The office manager is a nutritionist, so there are healthy snacks strewn about. There are standing desks and exercise balls everywhere. The air is filtered. But this isn’t some holistic health center; WellnessFX is aiming to change the way we quantify our health—and prevent diseases—with what CEO Jim Kean calls "an Apple ethos."

Here’s how the San Francisco-based service, which just launched in December, works: Medical professionals go to users’ homes and draw their blood, which is then tested for a number of biomarkers (substances found in blood that indicate a biological state, like having high cholesterol). Many of these tests are not performed by standard labs because of price. WellnessFX then lays out the results in easy-to-read charts that track changes over time, offers consultations with doctors, nurses, dieticians, and nutritionists, and allows those medical professionals to remotely provide advice on lifestyle modifications, supplements, and other steps that users can take to improve their health based on their biomarker results. In the future, WellnessFX expects to have access to testing facilities where users can go and get their blood tested—a cheaper alternative to in-home visits.

The service appears on the surface to be directed towards well-off health nuts. It costs $650 annually for the baseline plan (50 diagnostics and one consultation). The most expensive plan is $2,950 per year for 50 essential diagnostics, 25 premium diagnostics (including bone markers, tumor markers, and an advanced cardiac panel), two reassessments, and multiple consultations. With blood tests available for free under many insurance plans, why would anyone sign up for this?

Kean, a former college football player and professional ballet dancer, convincingly rattles off a list of benefits to the service. WellnessFX graphs changes over time, so users can see how well their various biomarkers are being controlled. The medical professionals employed by WellnessFX focus on preventative health—so poor cardiac blood test results, for example, might yield recommendations about diet and supplements that could prevent bigger problems down the road. In areas with doctor shortages, the service provides easy access to health advice. And for patients without insurance, WellnessFX could act as a screening tool that gauges whether they need to set foot inside a brick-and-mortar office. Perhaps most importantly, the company expects to offer a cheaper plan in the future with just basic biomarkers (the kinds of tests you might get in an annual physical).

WellnessFX has already reaped positive health benefits for Kean. After getting his cholesterol tested in 2009, his doctor informed him that he should go on Lipitor to keep his LDL cholesterol levels under control. Instead, Kean did a deep dive into his cardiac biomarkers with the help of his medical team. After analyzing the results, Kean discovered that his cholesterol problems could be at least partially fixed with a nutritional intervention. He also found that his body doesn’t absorb certain nutrients very well, so he started taking fairly high dosages of folic acid and a B vitamin complex. Kean was eventually able to get his cholesterol under control without prescription drugs.

WellnessFX recently scooped up $4 million in funding, and has already taken on hundreds of clients. The service can currently only operate in California and Oregon (and Washington State soon) due to telemedicine regulations, but it will gradually expand to more states. Despite the recent influx of startups in the digital health world, Kean is confident that his business is unique. "From a product design standpoint, no one has tackled aggregate data and telemedicine together," he explains.

The service has attracted attention from corporate benefit managers, large hospital chains, insurers, and even labs. So while WellnessFX is a boutique service for now, it could become ubiquitous in the future. "We’d love to be the universal backend for projecting health data," Kean says.

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