On Being an Early Adopter in Silicon Valley

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When I lived in Chicago, I used to find myself getting annoyed at coverage of new innovations happening in Silicon Valley — it all seemed so far away and out of reach.  But now that I live in Silicon Valley, I’m enjoying being at the center of new trends.

So when I read about a company that is revolutionizing blood testing, and realized that their first and only testing center is about 20 minutes from my house, in downtown Palo Alto, I had to check it out.

I learned about the company, Theranos, in the pages of one of my favorite magazines, Wired. This magazine, headquartered in San Francisco, features the most exciting up-and-coming technology from the hottest startups.  Theranos certainly qualifies as one of these, with its goal to revolutionize the business of blood testing.  The 30 year founder came up with the idea for doing blood testing using 1000th of the amount of blood required by normal tests, with results produced in just a few hours. She dropped out of Stanford and used her tuition money to fund her company.

Blood testing was on my mind when I saw this article, because every spring is when I have my annual physical my doctor likes to do a lot of blood tests. And I mean a lot.  She’s a devotee of another trend that is currently popular in the Bay Area, called Functional Medicine, which emphasizes gathering a lot of data. I like this approach very much in theory, but having a half dozen vials of blood drawn for all the tests is not so great in practice.  So the Theranos micro-sample approach was extremely appealing — all they need one drop of blood to run a battery of tests.

Thus I found myself at the Theranos Wellness Center in the Palo Alto Walgreens, the first of what will soon be a nationwide network.  It turned out that the large number of tests ordered by my doctor exceeded what could be done using the pinprick micro-sample, so I had to have an ordinary venipuncture.  That was disappointing, but they only had to take two mini tubes, so it was certainly an improvement over my usual blood test experience.  Other than that, it was not too much different than going to the usual testing center, other than I was the only patient there, presumably because not many people have discovered it yet. But with small blood volume requirements, test results available in a few hours, and clearly posted prices (a rarity in U.S. medicine) I expect that more and more people will be trying Theranos soon.


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