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This Entrepreneur Is Transforming Health Care With DIY Lab Testing

People

Julia Cheek, CEO of the groundbreaking health care company EverlyWell, believes all people should be doing frequent blood testing, and they shouldn’t have to worry about the red tape of insurance or the complication of making doctors appointments to do so.


“People in this country are entitled legally to get the lab testing they want whenever they want,” says Cheek. “If you were to ask 99 percent of Americans, no one knows they have that right. And so there is this incredible delivery gap.”

Cheek’s platform, which has to date garnered $5 million from venture capitalists and strategic angels, is designed to fill that gap by empowering consumers to order, self-collect, and receive analysis of physician-approved lab results to treat and prevent diseases. Meant as a way to empower the consumer to take charge of his or her own health care and as a means to simplify the lab testing process, Cheek believes her company's introduction to the market is perfectly timed.

“Deductibles have increased 70 percent over the past six years,” says Cheek, whose company is based in Austin, Texas. “Most people are now on high deductible healthcare plans, even on corporate insurance, and most people never meet their deductible. So what you deal with is a completely changing consumer rationale. You are now conditioned to know you are going to be spending money on healthcare. That fundamental change is one of the reasons that the timing is now right for consumer-driven companies to succeed.”

“I can get an HIV test, a pregnancy test and cigarettes at my local drugstore but I can’t get a thyroid test. It’s so frustrating for millions of women who have unexplainable conditions and feel like they are unable to empower themselves to fix the problem.”

The daughter of two lawyers, Cheek attended Vanderbilt University and went to business school at Harvard. It was at Harvard that the bright, focused Dallas native began to think seriously about entrepreneurship.

“When I was at business school at Harvard, an entire new set of opportunities just became apparent to me,” says Cheek. “The people who start companies were actually my classmates and I was no different from them. Had I not gone to HBS I would have never considered the entrepreneurial path as actually a career path.”

After working a few post-graduation stints at the Bush Presidential Center as well Moneygram, where Cheek served as the youngest Vice President in the firm, she found herself feeling sick.

“I had this weird unexplainable set of symptoms over a number of months; aches and pains, drowsiness, fatigue,” says Cheek. “I just felt really off and it persisted. I went to all these different specialists and even with great corporate insurance I still ended up paying over $2,000 dollars for lab testing out of pocket. In addition I would get all this paperwork in the mail, with no explanation of the results, no one calling me telling me what they meant and everyone saying I was fine.”

After countless tests and doctor visits, Cheek finally discovered that her symptoms were a result of vitamin deficiency, essentially cortisol burnout. It was from this experience that her idea for a new company was born. Cheek says she wanted to create a platform that would unite the ease of at-home lab testing (made popular by companies like 23andme) with in-house customer service via clinicians on staff to support customer results, as well as having a way to ingest and display data for consumers in a simple way. Enter EverlyWell.

“You have all these specialists trying to pinpoint major issues and yet they are missing the bigger picture.”

“DNA is such a hot topic in the healthcare space right now from a testing standpoint. There are so many implications from a research standpoint.”

In June 2015, Cheek officially incorporated her company with a small round from one angel investor. She hired a chief medical officer and began building the organizational framework for consumers to remotely test blood and urine and get detailed results all from the comfort of home.

EverlyWell, which works in conjunction with six certified laboratories, launched in beta in June 2016 with three tests; food sensitivity, woman’s fertility and heavy metals, working in conjunction. The site now offers 13 different tests including thyroid, metabolism, men’s health, and breast milk DHA testing, which the company is the exclusive provider of in the US. EverlyWell also offers a gifting feature, which allows for consumers to send tests to another person.

“What we learned from the early users was that women make all the health care purchasing decisions generally speaking," says Cheek. "Our test menu was directed to what women would want and also what they would purchase for their families and partners.”

The company grew from $14K in sales in June, 2015, to $250K in February, 2016.

In terms of insurance, Cheek says EverlyWell tests, which range between $69 to $399, are on par or more affordable than insurance offers (other than cardiovascular and HbA1c, as both can be free depending on the plan), and most definitely more affordable for consumers who are uninsured. Additionally, EverlyWell tests are covered by Flexible Spending and Health Savings Accounts.

“If you take each test out of pocket and compare it to the alternative it’s almost always signficicantly cheaper or the same,” said Cheek, adding that as an example, a comparable out of pocket fertility panel (EverlyWell’s is $399) can range between $1,500 and $2,000, while food sensitivity (which costs $199 through EverlyWell) is usually well over $1,000.

“Our long-term strategy is to get our prices down so nobody even has to think about insurance because a $30 test is just worth it,” she says.

Although drawing one’s own blood-which is necessary for many of the EverlyWell tests-may seem a daunting task, according to Cheek, instructional videos and tutorials provide clear instructions to take the guesswork out of it.

“To be honest when we launched in beta one of our questions about consumer behavior was how will that [self-drawing blood] go over?," says Cheek. "I’m sure there is a number of people who self select out of the process because they don’t want to do that but it has not been an issue for all of our consumers [who have ordered].”

The platform currently has 8,000 paid customers across 46 states, but none in New York or New Jersey, as direct-to-consumer testing companies are forbidden by state mandate.

"When you think about health care many areas have tried to be disruptive but no one had really touched lab testing. It was still so archaic and such a huge market and no one [figured out] how to completely rethink the delivery model for the consumer.”

Next for the company will be offering a set of four different consumer genomics panels, in partnership with a large genomics company, set for later this year.

“For many years all the VC firms would say consumer-driven health care companies just don’t work. People don’t engage, they don’t care and they don’t spend money and were now proving that has completely shifted.”

Political Issue

To be sure, part of the EverlyWell model that is so appealing in today's complicated world of healthcare is transparency of cost beforehand.

“Unfortunately if the Affordable Care act is repealed 25 million people will be left uninsured,” says Cheek. “We will be a parachute most likely for that population. My goal is to get our costs down as much as possible because we want this to be an affordable solution. We want to get it purchased on every shelf in CVS, that is our vision; the consumerization of lab testing.”

Cheek says she is focused on expanding EverlyWell in specific verticals as well, including B2B and increasing B2C awareness.

“How we view ourselves in this next phase is growing to be the testing partner for many different companies, whether that’s food and nutrition companies or physician networks or through corporate wellness companies that need their covered employee base to be tested multiple times a year,” says Cheek. “Those are all areas where we’ve determined they have no great solution.”

Cheek also plans to continue integrating telemedicine into the platform (it is currently only available for EverlyWell's sexual health panel) via partnerships with virtual physician networks that can deliver services via Facetime or a telephone call.

“Telling a consumer ‘we have your lab results, we’ve approved and authorized your physician consult and your prescription is called in, would be the goal," says Cheek. "That's already the workflow for sexual health so the more we can replicate that the better. It would be completely transformative,”

The Quick 10

  1. What's the app you most use?

Slack and Instagram.

2.What's the first thing you do in the morning?

This shouldn't be my answer -- but it's definitely first, check my phone and then, ask Alexa for the forecast.

  1. Name a business mogul you admire.

Arianna Huffington.

  1. What product do you wish you had invented?

Third Love's bras. I love them.

  1. What is your spirit animal?

Dolphin.

  1. What is your life motto?

No pressure, no diamonds.

  1. Name your favorite work day snack.

Pistachios.

  1. What's something that's always in your handbag?

My whole makeup bag since I apply it on the go.

  1. What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?

India.

  1. Desert Island. Three things, go.

My favorite forms of sustenance: coffee, cheese, and wine.

5 min read
Health

3 Healthy Ways to Relieve Stress Each Evening (Instead of Reaching for Another Cocktail)

When we envision a person who is suffering from substance use disorder (SUD)—defined by having a history of past misuse, experiencing increasing mental health symptoms, or having a family history of addiction—we often picture someone waking up and instantly grabbing their first drink. However, in my experience working with those battling SUD for nearly a decade, I've learned that everyone's relationship with alcohol looks different and having a few too many drinks at night can be just as dangerous.

The time of day, amount, or type of alcohol one drinks doesn't define if they suffer from SUD or not—it's the compulsion to drink. By focusing on healthy stress relievers and implementing them into your daily routine, you aren't just avoiding another glass at night, you are curbing any inclination for SUD that you may have.

While you may feel the desire to reach for another drink after dinner and putting the kids to bed to relieve some of the stress you incurred that day, there are other things that you can do that are much more beneficial to your mental health and wellbeing.

Risks of Reaching for Another Drink

Reaching for another cocktail or glass of wine can feel like a great way to relieve the stress of the day at the time, but over time it can actually lead to the opposite. Excessive drinking is known to lead to increased anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders such as increased risk of family problems, altered judgment, and worsened sleep quality. These can all lead to increased stress and create a continuous cycle I have seen in many of my patients, which often prove difficult to break.

Increased alcohol consumption can directly impact an individual's mood and temperament, too. In my patients, I've seen a connection between increased alcohol consumption and irritability, fatigue, and loss of interest in activities that previously brought that person joy—activities that people should always put time into, especially right now during the pandemic.

While drinking in moderation doesn't have serious implications for some, others are already at increased risk for SUD. One drink per day is considered moderate for women, while eight drinks or more in a single week is categorized as heavy drinking. It's important to monitor your intake—whether you are at increased risk for SUD or not. It is all too easy for one glass to become another, and then another. And if you keep reaching for just one more drink, you can start to build a tolerance, as it requires more and more alcohol to achieve the desired effect. This can result in dangerous, addictive habits that will alter your life, and the lives of those who care for you.

Three Healthy Ways to Relieve Evening Stress

Stress relief from alcohol is short-lived, but choosing healthier, alternative stress relievers can provide long-lasting benefits for both your mental and physical wellbeing. At Wellbridge, our team not only focuses on treating addiction but also on teaching healthy habits to support ongoing sobriety. And many of these learnings can be implemented to avoid addiction by handling stress better as well!

Below are three healthy stress relief ideas you can implement into your routine:

  1. Mindfulness exercises can be a powerful and mentally stimulating stress reliever. Throughout our therapeutic program at Wellbridge, we provide different opportunities to cultivate mindfulness. For example, breathing exercises, such as box breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, mindful walking, and progressive muscle relaxation. If you're looking for entry, guided meditation, check out this YouTube channel where experts post mindfulness exercises each week.
  2. Human connection is invaluable. Whether it is your spouse, your children, a friend, or even a therapist, connecting with someone else can be a great way to relieve stress. The additional perspective that another person provides can also help us feel that the anxieties and stressors we are experiencing are more manageable. If you are feeling increased stress from loneliness or isolation, reach out and schedule a Zoom coffee hour with a friend, or call a loved one to check-in and chat.
  3. Physical activity is an excellent stress reliever as well, for so many reasons. Not only can it help us get our mind off of stress, it enables our bodies to release endorphins and provides long-lasting physical health benefits. Physical activity doesn't need to be a full-blown workout if you don't feel up to it, or simply don't have extended periods of time to dedicate to a longer exercise regimen. Even a short walk or some stretching can go a long way towards improving your mood. I enjoy following guided, online yoga practices for both mindfulness practice and physical activity.

Despite my years working in this space, I am no stranger to giving in to stress. However, I've learned that by allotting myself a little time each morning and evening for activities that set a positive tone in my life—like meditation, journaling, and exercise—I've been able to better manage my stress and feel more prepared for heightened periods of stress. Do I manage to set aside personal time every morning and evening? Definitely not—life happens! But by doing our best to take regular time out for ourselves, we're all certain to be in a better place emotionally and mentally.

Putting Your Mental Health & Wellbeing First

It's important to also recognize that it isn't just stress that causes us to reach for another drink at night. With the added pressures and responsibilities of women in today's world, having another glass of our favorite drink at the end of the day can often seem like a quicker and easier option than other healthier ways to relieve stress.

However, it's essential to put your mental health and wellbeing front and center in your priority list—something that many women struggle with. But just like the oxygen masks on an airplane, you can't take care of others if you don't take care of yourself first. By focusing on implementing small, healthy habits and making them a seamless part of your daily routine, you ensure that you can show up in all aspects of your life and for all the people in your life.

If you are struggling with increased stress, be specific and honest with your support system about your need to preserve your mental wellbeing. Prioritizing your needs will help you be there for other people you care about in your life.

I always refer back to a quote from a Dar Williams song—a song about therapy no less! "Oh, how I loved everybody else when I finally got to talk so much about myself." Talk about your needs with others and find time to develop healthy coping habits. And if you feel as though you've already created an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, discuss that relationship with a medical advisor to learn if advanced treatment is the right option for you.