CEO SUMMARY: Telemedicine provider Teladoc Health has announced new services for certain primary care customers that include at-home phlebotomy appointments. The move is evidence of the consumer demand for increased convenience and flexibility in their healthcare. Scarlet Health, a division of BioReference Laboratories, will handle the on-demand phlebotomy arrangements for Teladoc Health.
IN JULY, TELADOC HEALTH ANNOUNCED it was adding home phlebotomy draws to what it calls its “virtual primary care platform.” Adding interest to this development is that Scarlet Health—a business unit of BioReference Laboratories that launched in January 2021—will provide home phlebotomy services to Teladoc Health.
Teladoc reports that its membership is 56.6 million people and it delivers about five million telehealth visits per quarter. It has more than 10,000 providers in its network and the company projects revenue of $2.4 billion for 2022. In 2020, it paid $18.5 billion to acquire Livongo, a company that provides diabetes monitoring and other types of health monitoring.
The actions by Teladoc to add home and workplace patient collections to its app is evidence that consumers want this service. This is the latest marketplace confirmation that consumer and patient acceptance of virtual physician visits and telehealth consultations is generating demand for phlebotomy and specimen collection services that come to the homes or workplaces of consumers and patients.
For several years, The Dark Report has signaled clients and regular readers that the newest generation of consumers would be accessing healthcare differently than their parents and grandparents. That included use of virtual doctor visits and telehealth services.
This is now becoming reality. More evidence of consumer demand for phlebotomy services that come to the home or workplace is the rapid growth of a California-based mobile phlebotomy company called Getlabs. Founded in 2018, the company services are used by Labcorp, Quest Diagnostics, and Sonora Quest Laboratories, along with other lab clients.
Getlabs is enjoying explosive growth. It operates mobile phlebotomy services in 25 states plus the District of Columbia and is expanding into other states. Earlier this year, it closed on a $20 million Series A financing round. Among the investors are Labcorp, Anne Wojcicki (co-founder and CEO of 23andMe), and her sister Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube).
In recent years, several companies and labs begin providing phlebotomy services to consumers in their homes and workplaces. The Teladoc Health/Scarlet Health arrangement is simply a recent example.
Long-time readers of The Dark Report remember our coverage of one of the first “mobile phlebotomy services” offered to the public. In October 2019, the clinical laboratory division of Northwell Health launched its LabFly mobile phlebotomy service. (See TDR, “COVID-19 Patient? Northwell Has Mobile Phlebotomy App,” Mar. 9, 2020.)
The Northwell Lab created a mobile app that patients and consumers could download and use to arrange a specimen collection at their homes and workplaces. LabFly currently charges $27.99 per visit and will perform up to three collections during one stop. The service is offered in the areas served by Northwell Health hospitals and physician clinics, mostly on Long Island and in New York City.
Draws Ordered via App
Teladoc intends to use its app as the primary vehicle to allow consumers to request phlebotomy services to collect lab specimens at their homes or workplaces.
The app Teladoc offers is called Primary360, and the new services being added to the app include:
- In-network referrals and care coordination capabilities.
- Same-day prescription delivery.
- On-demand home phlebotomy appointments in conjunction with Scarlet Health.
Teladoc views at-home blood draws as beneficial for patients who lack reliable transportation to a hospital, clinic, or physician’s office, and who want a more convenient option.
“Our traditional care delivery models are not meeting the modern-day experience consumers expect,” said Kelly Bliss, U.S. Group Health President at Teladoc Health. Bliss’ comments came via email from Teladoc in response to questions from The Dark Report.
“Travel time and expenses, crowded waiting rooms, and repetitive paperwork are all disincentives to complete follow-up recommendations within a traditional system,” Bliss added. “Virtual care has emerged as a path forward that not only provides a full spectrum of healthcare needs, but seamlessly blends the virtual and physical components of care.”
Lab Order Completion Rate
Scarlet Health is a division of BioReference Laboratories in Elmwood Park, N.J., Teladoc reported that during a pilot trial with Scarlet of the at-home phlebotomy services, laboratory order completion rates for patients jumped up 22.5%.
That figure is significant because there are many factors that can lead patients to discontinue lab orders, such a driving distances, time wasted sitting in a lab’s waiting room, or the inability to travel.
“Many consumers may forego lab or blood work due to these circumstances, which doesn’t just impact completion rates but ultimately health outcomes,” Bliss said. “On-demand phlebotomy allows patients to realize the full benefits of whole-person care, and we see more members following through on completing these orders because the access to specimen collection services is more flexible and convenient.”
BioReference started Scarlet in January 2021 as an in-home digital platform to access on-demand diagnostic services. The timing of that launch is seen by some clinical lab professionals in the New York area as a competitive move in response to how patients and consumers responded to Northwell Health’s LabFly app.
There is a further point of interest. Some lab managers noted that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic generated an immediate demand by consumers willing to pay for at-home COVID-19 specimen collection. This was about more than convenience, they said. By having their specimen collected at home instead of a public collection site, consumers minimized their risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
In the Scarlet arrangement, on-demand phlebotomy works as follows: After visiting a physician face to face or virtually, the patient receives a Scarlet link that lets that individual schedule an in-person appointment to draw the specimen at a convenient location, such as at home or a workplace. Specimens are sent to BioReference for testing and the results are shared online with the patient and ordering physician.
The new partnership with Teladoc will give both companies a chance to tout their respective features while capitalizing on growing awareness and use of telemedicine among healthcare consumers.
Access to Healthcare
Prior to the pandemic, demand for virtual office visits and telehealth consults was limited. Thus, clinical laboratories were under no market pressure to offer their own mobile, on-demand phlebotomy service. The COVID-19 pandemic opened new doors in that regard.
“COVID-19 educated consumers as to new and different ways to access medical care and the clinical laboratory tests they needed,” observed Robert Michel, Editor-in-Chief of The Dark Report, who spoke on the topic during April’s Executive War College Conference on Laboratory and Pathology Management.
“The acceptance of telehealth visits was substantial,” he added. “For example, the number of adults who used telemedicine jumped 400% from December 2019 to June 2020, according to a study done by CivicScience.”
Further, among adults with a child in the household, 19.7% of respondents reported that their kid had used telehealth in the prior four weeks, the U.S. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation noted in a report published in February 2022.
Because so many primary care visits result in the physician ordering clinical laboratory tests for their patients, the increased use of virtual doctor visits naturally generates the need for the patients to provide a specimen for clinical laboratory testing. It is this documented demand for mobile phlebotomy services that confronts clinical labs with both a dilemma and an opportunity.
The dilemma is knowing when a lab should offer on-demand phletobotomy that comes to home and workplaces. Existing client physicians are seeing more of their daily patient visits virtually. Many of these patients would prefer to pay for a home or workplace draw, rather than driving across town to a patient service center.
The opportunity is for clinical labs to add mobile phlebotomy to their service mix. This will help them retain existing client physicians while positioning themselves to serve consumers who want to order their own tests (where state laws permit it).
How Many At-Home Blood Draws?
TELEDOC HEALTH IS SILENT on how much demand it expects for at-home phlebotomy visits over the next 12 months. However, U.S. Group Health President Kelly Bliss noted that spreading the word about the service will be vital to its success.
“It’s difficult to forecast how many of our members will choose to make use of this service,” Bliss explained. “For most, access to this level of flexibility when completing care recommendations has never been available, so we can predict that consumer awareness will be a key variable in volume growth over the course of this year.”