What if you could take a blood test without leaving your home?
Getting regular checkups and tests at the local GP may seem like a beneficial idea, but the reality is that people in the UK rarely book appointments to see a doctor unless they’re feeling unwell.
In a bid to get more people to take charge of their health, London-based startup Thriva is giving people easier access to preventative healthcare through a finger-prick blood test kit that can conveniently be taken at home before being posted to a lab to be analysed.
In this episode of HealthRedesigned, we chat with Hamish Grierson, CEO and Co-founder at Thriva who tells us why he and his co-founders started the health service that’s empowering consumers to take proactive steps towards better health, how they designed their finger-prick blood test kit and what’s in-store for Thriva’s future.
Driving preventative health
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Why did you start Thriva?
We’re trying to build the world's first preventative healthcare service. We bring that to life today by enabling people to use a finger-prick blood testing kit that they can order from us online and use at home, which is pretty revolutionary for most. They post it back to one of our partner labs and get results within 24 to 48 hours that's been reviewed by a GP and really easy to read so that they understand what to do next.
The idea for the business came about because Elliott, one of my two co-founders, has a hereditary high cholesterol disposition through familial hyperlipidemia and has been managing that condition since he was about 15. When we worked together, me being someone who is personally fascinated by all things nutrition, we started discussing whether he’d experimented on trying to reduce or perhaps get off his statins dependency, the drug he takes to keep his cholesterol in check.
What became obvious is that the system itself just isn't really set up to empower people to take charge of their health. Even though we have and are very fortunate to have an amazing healthcare system in the UK—when you are sick. Slightly ironically as a consequence of having such a brilliant sick care system, it's almost incapable of delivering preventative healthcare and that's where we see our role.
We want to empower millions of people to ultimately avoid avoidable disease.
How does using Thriva actually empower people compared to visiting a local GP?
Often times in the UK, people don't just go to the GP to get a checkup. There’s a concept of a free health check for people who are over 45, but the take-up rates are not more than 20%. The idea that you would go to your doctor to get a regular check in on your health just isn't a thing even if it's theoretically possible. Therefore, we have a burden of responsibility to ensure that our tests are useful. We look at key risk indicators and that cuts across cardiovascular risk which factors both your blood work and imputed BMI as well as a full lipids panel which gives us a breakdown of your cholesterol types. Equally, we also look at diabetes risks, and iron, vitamin D and B12 deficiencies.
There are a couple of things that are important to us. One is that it’s a useful test and two, that you can do something about the results. We're very careful to make sure that the lion's share of what we test for can be positively impacted by things within your control as an ordinary human being.
A window into the body
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What was your intention when you started designing the kit?
It's important to know that we're not a finger-prick blood testing company. We use finger-prick blood tests because they’re a Zero to One innovation. If you compare it to the way blood is ordinarily collected, today we can do it at home and it's pretty painless. There's a huge amount you can tell from it and it's pretty cheap.
We deliberately use off-the-shelf componentry within the kit. We worked around the actual kit experience to make sure that it feels premium, trustable and intuitive. We hope that the actual at-home experience mirrors the online experience as well. We looked at other methods of harvesting internal health data, but ultimately, blood has probably the greatest degree of pedigree and trust. Pathology has been around for a long time and while genomics, micro gut analysis and microbiome analysis are certainly fascinating areas of research, they just don't have the scientific research base that a lot of blood testing pathology does.
Helping users decode their health
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Does Thriva educate its users on what all of the measured markers actually represent?
For us, it cuts across a whole number of facets of the business. Education starts with branding and that might sound slightly orthogonal as a piece of thinking, but the reality is that if you look at Thriva, it doesn't look like a medical traditional brand in the sense that there are no people in white coats and pictures of laboratories.
That's very much part of what we're trying to do here. Branding sets the scene for the way in which we talk to you and that you expect to be talked to at a level down. This means that the way we present content is as intuitive as we can possibly make it.
That involves constantly refining that process and content to make it more obvious to people as to what something is and why something's being tested if it's being tested. Then, it's just down to recognising that we need to talk in a language that everyone can understand. It's about trying to be inclusive rather than using language that is only able to be understood by a small percentage of people.
Could you share an example of how Thriva has helped someone?
One woman who’d been to the doctor previously and hadn't picked anything up, took our advanced thyroid test. She identified that she probably had a thyroid issue, took that information to the GP and was ultimately diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She was diagnosed really early and she credits Thriva with saving her life because it was her ability to easily get information that helped her make a more informed and motivated decision that ultimately ended up with her having a conversation with a GP.
It's a really good example of what happens when you empower people with something affordable and simple. We're not trying to supplant the NHS (the UK’s National Health Service), but we’re trying to make sure that people have more of the right conversations with their doctors.
Providing simpler access to health data
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What’s been your biggest takeaway or the most surprising insight since starting Thriva?
When we first started, people looked like they were in two binary categories. They were either really understanding of the health world and were using us because they were on a bit of an optimiser journey or, at the other end of the spectrum, they’re not very healthy or had unhealthy habits but wanted to avoid suddenly being knocked over by something serious.
What we realised is that there’s a huge amount of crossover and that those two things are descriptions that could actually be mapped to the same person. Just because you go to the gym doesn't mean you don't then drink five pints on a Friday and just because you choose salad a lot of the time doesn't mean you don't eat burgers some of the time.
Internally, we use the phrase 'health activated' to drive this distinction. If you’re not ‘health activated’, you're doing what you're doing because you’re motivated to possibly look good—it's more about appearance than it is about preservation and longevity. On the flip side, if you are ‘health activated’, then the things that you bring into your life or spend money on are far more to do with preservation and avoiding serious health outcomes. It's a tricky one to unpick but we think we've made some big inroads in understanding that and it was super fascinating to uncover.
Where does Thriva go from here?
Our roadmap has some degree of international expansion on it for sure. There's another type of customer that we'd sort of missed at first but has increasingly become part of our world—and that's patients. These are often people who are just trying to live an ordinary life and keep themselves out of the sick care system. It became increasingly obvious to us that they also need easy access to data to be able to make good decisions—that's exactly what people who come to us directly need too.
So we created a platform called ‘Thriva for Specialists’ to originate testing via a specialist because the end user need feels very similar to the customers that we serve directly. We've got a pilot going live with a hospital and we're helping people monitor their conditions from home rather than having to take a long or frustrating trip to the hospital.
Equally, we're now also working with hundreds of nutritionists and dieticians who need to do testing on their clients, which is typically a slow and often very expensive process. That's a big, exciting thing that’s down the track for us.