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How EverlyWell-A Digital Health Platform Greatly Influences the Lab Testing Industry

The troubles of health checking at hospitals have resulted in at-home lab tests, and EverlyWell has shown its dominance in this area. Even it was one of the first to receive FDA authorization for at-home coronavirus testing kit.
By Iris Cao | 10 min read
on August 10, 2020
Image credit: Press Associate

EverlyWell is the digital health platform that offers over a dozen home-based medical tests. Its test’s service ranges widely from food sensitivities, metabolism to female fertility levels, heart conditions. The company promises that these tests will provide the clients with similar results that he or she could get from an in-person doctor’s appointment, but with much lower fees, and faster speed. 

The importance of at-home medical test service is indispensable for both the patients and the medical industry. For patients, the benefits are obvious: it is much cheaper and more convenient to have a medical test at home rather than driving to a nearby emergency room, doctor’s office, or hospital. For the clinicians, who are responsible for over seven billion lab tests in the U.S. annually and utilize 70% results of those tests in medical diagnoses, the at-home lab tests help reduce the amount of work of these clinicians, and help staff to prioritize the urgent cases. 

How EverlyWell Was Established

The idea of EverlyWell stemmed from the founder and CEO, Julia Cheek, who basically had no expertise in healthcare. In 2015, she came up with the idea after having to pay a large amount of money, more than $2,000, despite her good insurance, and had to wait for weeks for the results of what should have been a routine test. That service made this solo founder with Harvard MBA find a more convenient, timely, and cost-effective solution. 

In fact, for more than a decade ago, the technology to do biological testing at home have existed. DNA genetic testing like Ancestry and 23andMe are the clear examples of these services, yet the idea to use it for medical tests was not performed by anyone before until EverlyWell showed up. Moreover, unlike 23andMe, EverlyWell pays attention to maintain privacy and compliancy standards as high as possible. The company guaranteed that it does not sell or share customer data, test results for any third parties except to the physician network who is eligible to review it. Hence the data collected by EverlyWell is kept securely on servers that follow HIPAA, which is the government policy on health information privacy. 

How Does EverlyWell Work?

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Image credit: EverlyWell

In terms of categories, EverlyWell can offer a variety of different services like general wellness, men or women’s health, sexual health, and genomics. While its food sensitivity kit tests could react to 96 commonly found foods, its HbA1c could check if a person is having diabetes with unhealthy blood sugar levels. Other than these, the company also cover to check other areas such as cholesterol and lipids, heart health, Omega-3 levels, HIV, metabolism, heavy metals, sleep and stress, and many more. 

Although the company could offer that many tests with accurate and simple results for the patients to read, the prices are not high ranging from $50 to $400, and this can be paid with flexible spending or health saving accounts. However, the company declares that it does not accept Medicaid, and it will not contract with any insurance companies. 

To do an EverlyWell test at home, the customer will need to order a certain kit depending on his or her problem. The kit includes registration information, step-by-step instructions, sterile collection tools, and prepaid return shipping. After collecting the samples, it will take around 5 business days or 10 days at the pick times and depending on the difficulty of the test. These samples are processed and carefully reviewed by an independent physician, then the customers could receive their results via smartphone apps, and a web dashboard, along with details, recommendations, and next moves. 

Currently, these test kits are available in 47 U.S. states and only the customers over 18 will be eligible to do these tests. Moreover, EverlyWell is prohibited from shipping kits to customers in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Rhode Island, yet the company promises to expand the service to more areas in the future. 

Julia Cheek shares that her service cares for some patients who would not be able to afford the expensive lab tests. She said: “Americans borrowed a huge amount of money, a staggering $88 billion to pay for health service last year, and the costs forced 65 million people to skip the treatment process.” 

As a result, her business appears to be a winning business model in the healthcare industry. EverlyWell shows that it is growing fast with 300% year-over-year customer growth. Furthermore, the product line is also expanded to more panels, including first-to-market tests in fertility, vitamins, high-risk human papillomavirus. Recently, the company also introduced a new model called end-to-end care with independent physician consults and prescriptions for sexually transmitted diseases, and Lyme disease testing. 

Everlywell-The Light during the Pandemic

Frank Ong, the Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of EverlyWell, used to be in Asia in 2002-2003, the time when SARS broke out. Thus, when the new coronavirus was identified at the end of 2019, he knew that there would be risks associated with this new type of virus. On a business trip in January 2020, Ong and Cheek shared the same opinion about the new virus that it could grow into a pandemic. And as we know, their prediction was accurate, by February, the virus was spreading which leads to insufficient space for testing. “It’s when we got into gear,” said Ong.

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Image credit: EverlyWell

With over 250,000 CLIA-certified labs in the U.S., Cheek saw an opportunity in enhancing the capacity to do Covid-19 testing for the American. Home sample collection also reduces the exposure to the coronavirus and the overburdening of healthcare facilities. The company states that increasing lab testing capacity was not its central point. This was suitable for its value, which is to provide easy and convenient testing. Despite that the company was not gaining any profits, the board offered a $1 million initiative, aiming to help smaller labs be FDA compliant.  

In March 2020, EverlyWell announced that it would sell its initial supply of 30,000 at-home Covid-19 tests to health care companies. Cheek hopes that with this movement, the tests would be more available for the regular consumer. Earlier in March, some other companies started selling at-home Covid-19 tests for consumers. However, the FDA prevented everyone from selling self-administered tests at home since it has not yet authorized any. This false start was caused by the confusion in the explanation of FDA guidelines. Whereas this agency began to acknowledge the public health value in these tests and showed its willingness to cooperate with companies. 

EverlyWell worked with the FDA to make sure about an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for its kits before sending any to customers. EUA permits the FDA to help secure the country's general wellbeing insurances against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) dangers by encouraging the accessibility and utilization of medical countermeasures (MCMs) required during general wellbeing crises. Without EUA, it might have taken 1,5 to 2 years for FDA approval. Under the EUA and with Ong's information on grouping clinical preliminary examination, including information from studies from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and UnitedHealth Group, showing self-gathered examples could stay stable through the mail. 

EverlyWell was considered as the first company to be granted a EUA for sample collection by FDA about its Covid-19 Test Home Collection Kit. EverlyWell’s offering is different since its sample kit is not dependent on any certain testing lab. It can collaborate with a variety of labs to gain a wider testing footprint. 

Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, the director of FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, claimed in a statement that: “This authorization of a Covid-19 at-home collection kit that can not only be used with multiple tests but also in numerous labs really helps. Since this can offer increased patient access to the tests, and it can help reduce the potential exposure to the virus.”

Until now, EverlyWell delivers the home test without gaining any profit. In contrast, it is cooperating with different insurance companies and Congress with the purpose of getting the test covered or even making it free. 

What Drives the Success of Everlywell?

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Image credit: EverlyWell

It is believed that raising funds is not such a task for EverlyWell. When the company was introduced on Season 11 of Shark Tank, Julia Cheek was able to receive a $1 million loan at 8%, plus help for sales and marketing for a 5% stake from the Shark Tank investor, Lori Greiner. This event was a force driving the business stronger, its sales doubled overnight, said the company spokesperson. 

In April of 2019, EverlyWell was able to raise $50 million in venture capital, which was led by Goodwater Capital with participation from Highland Capital Partners, Next Coast Ventures, NextGen Venture Partners, and others. In March 2020, Inc. 5000 rated EverlyWell as the third fastest-growing company in Texas. What is more, after two years since Cheek’s involvement in Shark Tank, she announced a recent update that EverWell’s sales have increased dramatically from $2.5 million in sales to $65 million. 

The success of EverlyWell is supposed to come from numerous factors, but the most distinct ones should be the innovative business model and Julia Cheek’s excellent leadership style.

Innovative business model

Theranos was believed to be a revolution company, whose founder is Elizabeth Homes. It promised with the clients that with a fingerprick of blood, it could perform hundreds of tests. In the end, the devices were faulty and there was no such research behind the company’s proposition. The “youngest and wealthiest self-made female billionaire”, Homes, was being indicted on various criminal counts including defrauding investors of billions of dollars. 

The story of Theranos indicated that its approach merely focused on radical transformation with challenging technological breakthroughs with the hope of making their model feasible. While EverlyWell’s strategy was different. Their success does not completely rely on revolutionary technological breakthroughs, but rather it involves a focused and strategic business model innovation that succeeds in digitizing a traditional industry player. In another word, the company puts effort into generating an architectural change by including existing technologies, independent lab testing facilities, online portals, direct-to-consumer channels, which could help address numerous consumers' pain points.

Also, the company’s early success is partly due to its ability to optimize and streamline the end-to-end user experience, which could make the service more convenient, comprehensible, and cost-effective. EverlyWell could not only make its service similar to using other modern digital tools but also greatly different from the cumbersome ways that are often seen in the medical establishment.

EverlyWell allows the patients to test their health with more convenience. Rather than going to the doctor’s office, they can visit the Amazon page to purchase the kits concerning their problems. In terms of comprehensibility, the company is excellent in delivering the results most directly, they are displayed colorfully and contextually, which causes no trouble for understanding. Finally, cost-effectiveness is when it announces the exact price of a test at the beginning of the process, instead of predicting the confusing implications of insurance, deductible, or copay on the final bill. 

Julia Cheek's approach to win 

#1: Think big and think fast

As mentioned previously, in May, Cheek and her board made a huge decision about giving away $1 million to labs across the U.S., which aimed to help them develop a working test for Covid-19. It is understandable that for a startup still counting every cent, writing that check was not easy. Nevertheless, Cheek made the decision very quickly. She added: “it was one of the fastest and easiest decisions that ever happened in the company, which took only one hour to decide.”

Cheek knew that it was the right thing to do at that time when those labs would need to increase the speed of at-home test development. Despite this giving away money, she could manage to organize the internal company properly so that it could offset the cost and still maintain the headcount. 

#2: Look out for people

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Image credit: Press Associate

In the situation where protests were going on in the streets, and Cheek has a new baby, some might wonder how she could manage to run a promising business that has a great influence on American’s health at this time. She claimed that it is crucial to emphasize the significance of ensuring her staff to be able to overcome. 

She added: “I worry like a mom about each member in our team,”. She tried to connect with those members, make sure that their health is good enough. Sometimes, she would allow them to take some time off Zoom and other digital platforms so that they will have more time to take care of themselves. “Our basic and primary focus is: What can the company do to ensure the best mental health for the employees?” she says. 

#3: The funding challenges

People might assume that getting funds is not harsh for Cheek when her finance could be supported by Shark Tank Lori Greiner and other big investors. However, she believed that she had to face several difficulties in seeking funding since she was a female founder although she was a Harvard student and built such a strong network. 

Cheek mentioned: “Raising funds was harsh for me. It was hard especially for people of color and particularly women of color. During the journey, I only heard noes until one day, there was a yes from Shark Tank, Lori Greiner”, who financed her business and helped its sales double overnight.

Ultimately, we can see how strong this woman is in how she could talk openly and honestly about her funding obstacles and encourage the investors to confront their biases and help her business. 

The success of EverlyWell lies on different reasons, but mostly it is thanks to the strategic model business that differentiates itself from other fellows, and besides, the talented and strong leader, Julia Cheek, with her smart decisions have made the business grow stronger every day, and in today’s turbulence time of Covid-19 crisis, the importance of EverlyWell service has been proven more clearly. What will happen to this business is still unknown, but we can foresee a promising and bright scene for this company to dominate in the healthcare service industry in the near future. 

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