I recently went to hear Elizabeth Holmes in person speaking in Santa Clara. She’s Theranos’ founder and CEO and a media darling. I loved the focus and single mindedness that shined through her story of knowing since childhood there was a company in her future. She was asked when Theranos began and her answer was, ‘about when I was 10.’ Awesome! The other dynamic view of persistence was deciding to wait for a Stanford chemical engineering professor outside his office for months until he would see her and approve her entry into his class which she had pre-determined was a necessary foundation for the work she wanted to do: developing Theranos. Loved it. This I admire. It is a beautiful characteristic.
And she was more radical than I expected in being determined to see that we do not need a middleman to order tests for us. THANK YOU ELIZABETH for that! And for getting a bill passed that lets the lucky citizens of Arizona get tested without begging a middleman or paying a middleman. No Rx needed in Arizona. You are free to know your Vitamin D level! Cancer markers, iron and thyroid! Blood tests for the people! This is similar to the PC revolution when pioneers took it out of the hands of government and academia. (Thank you Homebrew Computer Club, People’s Computer Company and all who participated in making that happen, Homebrew Reunion, 2014)
BUT THERE IS A PROBLEM
Ever since the first post we wrote about Theranos— An Almost Great Palo Alto Start Up — we’ve been following the Theranos story, intrigued by what Holmes was doing. And watching the interest and awareness grow in the media. And when every pharmaceutical company, hospital, lab testing company, many universities, financial firms, and the DOD lands on your pages about Theranos, and the building they call headquarters is on Page Mill and built by Stanford, and the Board is all military and Holmes doesn’t talk about it, you realize, you have not seen stealth mode until Theranos became the poster child for it. I’m not talking the why and how of the testing mechanics (I’ll leave that to others and the WSJ just took that on) but the fact that an all military board is just weird unless you are planning military ops and partying with all the initial people in DC (DOJ, CIA, etc)
And that is why it is so upsetting to find out that when you finally get a few blood tests ordered by an MD and choose Theranos, you get treated like an enemy combatant. To the pharmacist at Walgreens, University Ave, Palo Alto: You called Theranos headquarters because I asked to see the fine print you asked me to sign that I had received but really hadn’t? Or was it that when you did then give me the fine print I wanted to read it and had some questions? What the hell?
I asked what PHI was. You called the phlebotomist — she said, “I don’t know, never read this.” Newsflash: Personal Health Information. From the biggest scam of the century: Affordable Care Act. But that rant will have to wait. This one is about the paternalism or creepy, militaristic, spy, stealth oozing out of that call. What the hell was that all about? I heard you say, “Never mind, she asked me to delete the account.” You said you did but I don’t believe you. Besides you made a copy of my lab order and didn’t give it to me.
I don’t recommend Theranos. That was a creepy, crawly window into the medical industrial complex under the guise of game changer. Cheap blood tests? Well, maybe cash wise. But what freedoms are we giving up? Have I already given them up? I half expected to come home and find Dick Cheney on my doorstep. What price transparency? Was the pharmacist instructed to call under certain circumstances? Am I that circumstance? That much a threat? Is there a danger/ warning/flow chart? Did I climb onto your radar by asking to read the Privacy Statement? By asking questions about it?
What the hell is going on? Why did you call Theranos about me?