The next time your doorbell rings, it could be a DoorDash delivery, or one of a handful of startups all vying for supremacy in grocery delivery. Or it could be a phlebotomist, ready to do your blood work in the comfort of your living room.
That wandering phlebotomist is the heart of Getlabs, a startup that just closed a $20 million Series A on Thursday, following a seed round announced less than a year ago in April 2021.
Getlabs, founded in 2018, aims to become the facilitator of telecare. For example, imagine you just had a telehealth visit and your healthcare provider thinks it might be time for a blood test. Instead of going to a clinic, Getlabs will come to your home to do the draw, for an out-of-pocket convenience fee (to use company language) starting at $25.
Currently, the company is collecting samples and is working with Labcorp, Quest Diagnostics and Sonora Quest to process those tests.
We’ve covered GetLab’s origin story in detail here. But in short, the company is informed by founder Kyle Michelson’s own experience. While working on streamup (a music video streaming app) at Y Combinator 2016, he found himself struggling to fit in his medical appointments. At the time, he says, he was struggling with a health condition that required regular lab work.
Although telehealth platforms had proliferated, no company actually provided the personalized services he needed.
GetLab’s thesis is that the next iteration of direct-to-consumer healthcare will address more clinically complex conditions — the kind that could include regular blood tests or lab tests to confirm diagnoses.
“Some of the existing telehealth companies are more focused on these conditions that don’t require hands-on care,” Michelson told TechCrunch. “There is a new breed of telehealth companies that have been built from the ground up and are looking for a way to physically reach patients.”
“I thought at the time that if you had a way to get labs to a patient’s home, you would suddenly unlock the opportunity for telehealth to go way beyond what it does today,” he said.
Laboratory work is an important part of clinical decision making. An often-cited statistic is that about 70 percent of clinical decisions are based on lab work. Some scientists have pointed out that no one can really pinpoint the origin of that number, but it was taken from the Mayo Clinic to the CDC website.
About 14 billion lab tests are ordered in the US each year, according to the CDC. And there’s some evidence that more lab tests are being ordered each year. Between 2013 and 2018, lab testing spending in the US increased by more than 15 percent, according to a 2020 paper Implementation Science – a trend largely driven by healthcare providers ordering more tests. The same trend exists elsewhere, such as the UK. In the early 2000s, the average British citizen received between one and two lab tests a year, in 2018 the average citizen was given five.
Importantly, more lab tests don’t always mean better lab tests, but the point is that these tests are becoming more common. But with the increasing use of lab testing and the simultaneous expansion of telehealth services, Getlabs can fill a gap.
Telecare use has stabilized at around 38 times pre-pandemic levels, but overall, telehealth visits lead to fewer test orders than in-person visits. However, this could change as the scope of telehealth expands from emergency care and teletherapy to other areas that rely more on testing.
Some telehealth companies, such as Amwell, are beginning to realize that hybrid healthcare models will ease the bleeding of telehealth in areas like chronic care management. It’s not just Amwell. There has also been speculation by investors that the future telecare will not only be virtual, but a hybrid model that combines virtual appointments with remote home monitoring of patients, or visits from trained specialists.
Since their launch, Getlabs has invested in building its phlebotomist workforce to act as the personal component of a hybrid care model. To date, the company has employed more than 100 phlebotomists as W-2 employees. The company has a turnover rate of less than 0.5 percent, Michelson noted.
With that workforce, Michelson says the company has phlebotomists poised to serve about 45 percent of the U.S. population, up from about 6 percent just four months ago. The company is aiming for a funding ratio of 60 percent by the end of this year.
One thing to note, however, is that this concentration of phlebotomists tends to be relatively urban. (I typed in a few rural addresses in upstate New York as a test case, and Getlabs hadn’t reached the area. But there was a plethora of appointments available if I wanted a lab in Brooklyn).
Michelson says the workforce is largely geared towards a suburban audience, rather than a rural or truly urban audience. “Where we think we actually have the most value is in situations where it’s a patient who lives in the suburbs. You know, they have kids to raise, they have other situations that make it less easy for them to deal with [to a clinic],” he said.
Depending on the telehealth company, that focus can determine whether the two company’s goals are truly aligned. Telehealth is a particularly powerful intervention for rural areas that have no access to specialists or clinics at all. So getting boots on the ground in those areas too will prove particularly important in helping those communities.
Ultimately, Getlabs falls into the category of companies that increasingly treat healthcare as a consumer product, rather than a piece of bureaucratic toil. If they’re near you, it’s pretty easy to book an appointment through the front-end of their platform. But they’re also interested in the back end of consumer-centered healthcare.
Rather than allowing patients to book lab visits themselves, Getlabs aims to become fully integrated into a telehealth platform by launching its API. That API, he says, would allow companies to schedule lab testing right after virtual patient sessions.
“You just need to get a verbal answer, yes or no. And everything else is done seamlessly,” he said.
The round was led by Emerson Collective and the Minderoo Foundation. It includes participation from Tusk Venture Partners, Labcorp, Healthworx, Byers Capital, Anne Wojcicki (co-founder and CEO of 23andMe), Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube), Eric Kinariwala (founder and CEO of Capsule), and Mattieu Gamache-Asselin ( founder of Alto Pharmacy).
The main goal of this round, Michelson says, is to increase the number of healthcare workers hired by the platform. This funding will allow the company to attract more phlebotomists to expand coverage and build more partnerships with emerging telehealth companies looking for a personal touch.