As demand for pathology testing services increases across the globe, one Australian company is shaking up the sector with a new system enabling people to take their own blood samples at home and then monitor their health online. MyHealthTest general manager Nick Cerneaz speaks to Health View.

Getting a blood test has long been, for many, an inconvenient process. There’s a doctor’s visit for a referral, then foregoing breakfast before an early morning rush to a pathology centre to avoid the queues and get to work on time. Then there’s the wait for the doctor to call about the results, and perhaps a second visit.

It’s an effort from the other side too. Clinicians collecting blood need to fastidiously protect the sample before it’s eventually on its way, via refrigerated transport, to the lab.

But an Australian venture, MyHealthTest (MHT), is shaking up the sector offering a more accessible alternative that lets people take their own blood sample at home in minutes, post it to a lab using regular mail service and then receive their results online a few days later, with guidance on what they mean and how to engage more meaningfully with their GP for more information. An online portal allows the patient to track their progress as they have more tests and manage their condition.

The key is the use of dried blood technology and special packaging that removes the need for a trained clinician and a controlled environment while still protecting the sample’s integrity. The test kits can be ordered online or purchased in pharmacies.

“We’ve tried to give people a service that avoids the hassle of the traditional pathology method but has the accuracy of the full-blown pathology laboratory,” says MHT general manager, Nick Cerneaz, a member of the founding team led by healthcare sector entrepreneur Bill Mobbs.

“We wanted to make blood collection easier to give that convenience to people, particularly for those chronic conditions where people need to have regular testing.

“But the main thing we want to do is give people information; help them be more informed about their own health so they can then engage more successfully with their doctor. They can be a more active participant in managing their health.”

Diabetes epidemic targeted

MHT has initially focused on Type 2 diabetes but several other tests for chronic conditions needing frequent monitoring, such as thyroid dysfunction, heart disease and prostate conditions, will be added soon, with more planned for the future.

“We started with diabetes because it’s a terrible epidemic, a chronic condition that’s a tremendous cost to the community both economically and emotionally, so was very important for us to target,” Cerneaz says. “Plus there were a lot of personal connections amongst our team – it’s the nature of the disease that everyone knows someone with some sort of diabetes condition.”

While offering convenience to people in urban centres, for those in rural and remote areas MHT provides a service that might not otherwise be available. “It can be hard for people like farmers. Some of them don’t come into town regularly and there might not be a blood collection centre there,” says Cerneaz. “Managing a condition in remote areas is challenging.”

Launched in 2013, MHT is now a wholly-owned division of ASX-listed global medical device company ITL Limited which acquired the venture a year ago. In August, ITL came in at number 16 on the Australian Financial Review’s 50 Most Innovative Companies list with the publication citing MHT’s work as a key reason for the inclusion.

The MHT team worked closely with scientists in Canberra at the ANU’s John Curtin School of Medical Research to develop the protocols to be used and to undertake the testing and trials necessary to prove its efficacy and bring it to market. “The scientists did a great job of developing a protocol to analyse dried blood samples at high volume at a commercially viable cost but at high quality,” says Cerneaz. MHT has also received strong support and assistance from advocacy groups like Diabetes NSW and ACT.

Healthcare transformation

Cerneaz predicts the demand for convenient, more personalised online services like MHT will continue to grow quickly, reflecting trends in healthcare.

“The rise of personalised medicine is a big mega trend at the moment that’s going to transform the landscape of healthcare generally,” he says.

“To date, the trend with what’s been developed and delivered to doctors and the community has been generally generic. For example, with medication it’s one drug designed for everybody; it will work adequately for a proportion of the population but there will be those for whom it’s contraindicated or will have adverse side effects.”

“But the rise of personalised medicine coming out of immunotherapy and data-driven analysis of a particular person and their individual requirements, and the development of medicine that’s personalised for them, is driving radical change in healthcare.”

“We’re a part of that, in the sense that we’re aiming to give people more information about themselves so they can better manage their own health.”

“The disruptive, digital shake-up of old industries is going to happen everywhere; medicine is being improved by the rise of this immunotherapy and data-driven personalised medicine.”

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