Why I Gave a Start-Up My Blood

This piece was written for The Twenty Mile Club.

The companies mentioned in this piece did not sponsor this piece, nor did they give me a ‘free sample’.

It’s a chilly October morning, and I’m sat waiting in line at the walk-in phlebotomy clinic. I hate needles. I’m not sick. And no doctor told me I needed to be here… So why am I here?

For a long time, I’ve been going through periods of extreme exhaustion. I can only describe it as having the flu; the aches, pains, and tiredness, but without the main-flu like symptoms. 11am on a Saturday morning after a 12-hour sleep, I look over at my boyfriend who has spent the last 5 hours working, whilst I’m still struggling to get out the bed. No, I’m not hungover, as many 20-somethings would be on a Saturday morning. I have breakfast and a cup of coffee, but neither bring respite to the crushing fatigue. In the hope of jump-starting my body into action, I do some exercise with the mentality of ‘The only workout you’ll regret, is the one that didn’t happen’.

But my body feels like a tonne of bricks and I find myself regularly tearing up in frustration at how shattered I feel. I’m 24, I sleep at least 8 hours a night and I eat a healthy balanced diet- I should be in the prime of my life! There is no obvious reason for feeling like I’m being buried alive with exhaustion.

I’ve been to my GP many times and each time they’d try a new test and would find nothing concrete to determine what was wrong. This time I had asked for a blood test, thinking it could provide me with some further answers, suspecting an under-active thyroid or low iron levels. However I was disappointed to discover my results were perfectly ordinary for a healthy 24-year-old.

I didn’t understand it. Normal, healthy adults shouldn’t be falling asleep at their desk, powerless against insatiable tiredness…

So, I’ve decided to take my health into my own hands by giving a start-up my blood. After some research into various options online, I chose Werlabs, a private blood test service which promised quick, simple and detailed information about my health. It’s a straight-forward process: you visit the website, purchase a test and create an online profile (your ‘Werlabs Journal’), where you are able to add further details such as your height, weight, medical and family history. You receive an instant email with your test number, test location options (who are in fact NHS partner clinics) and are given details on how to prepare for the test; avoid unhealthy foods and alcohol the day before the test and to fast for 12 hours before the appointment.

I chose the ‘Blood Test XL’ which costs £125 and is Werlab’s largest and most popular package, incorporating 45 blood markers for a comprehensive health check. The extensive list includes biomarkers for the thyroid gland, cardiovascular health, blood sugar, vital vitamins and minerals, extensive liver and kidney function, infection and inflammation, as well as a full blood count.

For those that don’t want to pay £125 and have such extensive needle work there is an alternative offered by Thriva costing £69. All that Thriva requires, is you do a simple online application and a do-it-yourself finger prick test is sent to your door the next day. This can be sent back via Freepost and you receive your full results online, alongside a personalised report from a qualified GP. This particular Thriva ‘advanced’ test checks your cholesterol, liver function, vitamin D, iron profile, B12 (total), diabetes (HbA1c) and folate.

Start-ups like Werlabs are making it ridiculously easy for anyone to quickly, conveniently and accurately discover what is going on inside their bodies and enable them to own and make better decisions about their health. I am a huge advocate for the NHS, it plays an incredibly important role in our lives in the UK, and I think it’s crucial that we do everything we can to maintain it as a public service. However, it is bursting at the seams and drained of resources, morale, and money. One way to ease this intensely growing pressure on the NHS is for those who can afford it, to use private practitioners, at least some of the time!

The NHS is stuck in a reactive health paradigm, but everyone knows prevention is better than cure. With start-ups such as Thriva and Werlabs, who provide private preventative healthcare services, we no longer have to wait until we fall sick to take charge of our health. By identifying early signs of lifestyle-related health problems (such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease), we can act earlier and manage our long-term health. These start-ups aren’t preventing the common cold or flu, although levels of markers such as white blood cells in your blood can indicate a weakened immune system and susceptibility, they are allowing you to get a head start on the major health concerns that start to arise middle to late life.

Sidestepping the issues of growing private healthcare services in the UK and leaving them for another time, start-ups that provide blood sample analysis like Thriva and Werlabs are reducing the cost of these tests. Something comparable to the Werlabs test can run you up to over double the cost if you go through the traditional private sector (for example, at Medical Express Clinic, their ‘Platinum’ test costs £390).

THE RESULTS

My first set of results were available 12-hours after the initial blood test, which were swiftly followed by the rest of the results 24-hours later. It was a quick, efficient and effective approach to preventative healthcare. They also get a doctor to comment on your results, giving you an overall view of your current health. Knowing that one of my markers was identified as abnormal, I was able to book a doctor’s appointment with a self-identified problem; saving both the doctor’s time and my own, by offering a quick resolution.

I won’t dive into the exact results, but it is suffice to say that I can now remove a large chunk of potential deficiencies as probable causes for my perpetual exhaustion. To get the same results would have taken months from a GP requiring multiple trips to test individual things and multiple unwanted blood tests.

The experience has allowed me to take a new, active approach to my health. Perhaps these start-ups will trail-blaze the way towards a new model of healthcare that is proactive rather than reactive. We already have a number of devices and services that provide small windows into our health quality – from sleep trackers and apps to FitBits and exercise monitors to heart rate and glucose monitors – we can collect and analyse our body’s data to improve our wellbeing.

Since starting this piece and having my blood tested, Werlabs has notified me that it will be pausing some of its services within the UK and it will no longer be possible to place an order on their website from November 2nd, 2018. Perhaps the future of pre-emptive healthcare is a little further away than we thought with Werlabs closing their doors, but the experience has made me feel educated, empowered and engaged with my health and body and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next in the world of pre-emptive healthcare services.