Less than a week after the first home-collected saliva test for COVID-19 was authorized by the FDA, at least two consumer-facing telehealth brands say they have cut deals to sell these test kits to the public.
The first is consumer telehealth company Hims & Hers, best known for its mail-order wellness and sexual health products for men and women.
While the well-funded startup has substantially expanded its telehealth offerings over the last few months to meet demand, the new service has customers enter their symptoms, travel history or other relevant medical information into an intake form. From there, the company connects consumers with a licensed provider to determine whether Rutgers Clinical Genomics Laboratory's test is appropriate, and, if so, overnights the kit to the customer's address.
Once the self-collected saliva sample is shipped to a lab and analyzed, the customer can view their results online and receive guidelines-based recommendations from the virtual provider within three to five days. Hims and Hers' service will run $150, which breaks down to $80 for the lab, $20 for the consulting medical provider and $50 for the expedited shipping.
“We’ve been committed since day one to provide convenient and affordable access to healthcare,” Andrew Dudum, founder and CEO of Hims & Hers, said in a statement “We know that people have questions about COVID-19, including possible symptoms and how to get tested if they are concerned about their health. At Hims & Hers, we want to serve as a resource, offering access to results as quickly as possible and bringing relief and answers to as many Americans as we can.”
The second offering comes from Vault Health, a recently launched men's health service combining telehealth and home visits. Their approach similarly requires physician approval, but unlike Hims & Hers has consumers self-collect their sample while under the watchful eyes of a provider via Zoom video call.
Vault wrote on its website that customers will receive a report of their results 48 to 72 hours after their sample arrives at the lab for testing. Its test also costs $150, with cuts going to the lab ($74), operations ($32), overnight shipping ($29) telemedicine consultation ($10) and physician ordering and reporting ($5).
Both companies acknowledge that the tests are in short supply, and will be limiting orders to one test per person.
"We know tests are hard to find," Vault Health CEO Jason Feldman wrote on the company's COVID-19-testing webpage. "We are working with our lab partner to make as many tests available as possible. We will continue to make the testing process more efficient every day. We sincerely appreciate your patience and cooperation as we find ways to work through this together.
WHY IT MATTERS
The U.S. now has more coronavirus cases than any other country. As many states and cities winding down social distancing efforts to spin up their economies, public health experts frequently point to increased testing availability as a major factor in preventing a debilitating second wave.
At-home sample-collection options allow individuals to understand their condition without exposing anyone else in their communities. Further, providing these physician-ordered tests through consumer-facing brands lowers the barrier of entry for many who might otherwise avoid testing despite their symptoms.
THE LARGER TREND
Home COVID-19 testing has been a major goal for several diagnostic and virtual care companies, but the road to these services hasn't exactly been simple. In March, a handful of services announced and quickly rescinded mail-order COVID-19 tests after receiving clarification from the FDA that relaxed emergency guidances did not apply to home kits. In fact, it wasn't until mid-April that the FDA authorized the first diagnostic test for home sample collection.
Telehealth brands, meanwhile, have seen the demand for their services skyrocket throughout the emergency, but few have transformed or expanded their offerings to the extent of Hims & Hers. In a recent interview with MobiHealthNews, Dudum described a "wartime mentality" within his team that helped to accelerate the company's mail-order and telehealth offerings. And although the company has now tackled primary care, mental health counseling and support for certain low-stakes conditions, he said that the company's broader mission and messaging isn't too different from the day it launched.
"We've really based the brand, the company around the idea of getting the highest-quality medical care possible, in the most affordable and accessible way. Trust and safety, when it comes to the medical infrastructure of our company, has been [table stakes] from the beginning," he said. "We've essentially leveraged all the assets that we have, which is a brand that's about destigmatization, an infrastructure that allows for telemedicine visits, and mobile access and digital prescribing ... and then what we did was pipe in, and continue to pipe in, the highest quality physicians."