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February 24, 2020

Would you get a $3,500 physical? This startup hopes so.

Daily Briefing

    The "executive physical"—an intensive appointment that covers much more than the average annual checkup—is usually reserved for busy executives and others who are financially well-off, but a startup wants to bring the service to a wider audience, Rebecca Robbins reports for STAT News.

    New report: The future of primary care

    What is an 'executive physical?'

    For CEOs, finding time to check on their health can be difficult. They might be able to squeeze in a visit with their primary care doctor, but making and attending medical check-ins with cardiologists, dermatologists, and other specialists can often be too time-consuming. 

    As such, several leading health systems offer executive physicals to help executives and other busy customers get top-notch medical care in just a day or two.

    But executive physicals aren't cheap: The price for these physicals can range from $1,700 to $10,000, according to research published in JAMA last year.

    In many cases, companies foot the cost for an executive as the screening can give a company confidence that an executive is healthy.

    The startup that wants to take the executive physical mainstream

    While executive physicals are typically marketed as a service for executives, startup Q Bio wants to offer its own version of the service that's more accessible and less time-consuming, Robbins reports.

    Jeffrey Kaditz, Q Bio's co-founder and CEO, explained that the goal of his company's service is slightly different than that of the traditional executive physical. "What is the most valuable information we can collect about your body, in as short a period of time as possible, as efficiently as possible, and non-invasively as possible?"

    When someone signs up for a physical from Q Bio, they're asked to provide their medical background including the health care providers and facilities they've visited for care. Patients then undergo a series of tests, including an MRI and genetic testing, and provide blood, urine, and saliva samples for analysis, Robbins reports.

    Kaditz noted that the company is trying to limit what it measures within the body. For example, the company has elected not to analyze the microbiome, and instead of sequencing a person's entire genome, Q Bio only analyzes a panel of 147 genes. The total examine takes about 75 minutes.

    Two weeks later, Q Bio creates a report that highlights the most important findings and recommends patients undergo follow-up exams in order to track changes in their baseline. Patients can take the Q Bio report to other providers. The company charges $3,500 for an annual membership to its service and has more comprehensive options that range in cost from $6,500 to $15,000.

    So far, Q Bio has been a success. The company opened its first Q Center last year and experienced such high demand that it began a waiting list, according to Kaditz. On Thursday, Q Bio announced that it had raised $40 million from venture capital investors and plans to open multiple Q Centers throughout the United States. The company also said it plans to contract directly with employers to cover memberships for employees.

    How experts are reacting to Q Bio's methods

    Some experts have criticized the methods Q Bio uses, Robbins reports, arguing that there's not enough evidence to suggest that its testing methods will provide benefits to patients or save money over time. In addition, there's concern that false positives could arise, leading patients to undergo potentially unnecessary and possibly harmful testing or medical interventions.

    However, Vijay Pande, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm that led Q Bio's new Series B funding, said the company's approach is different than the more commonly seen approaches in medicine, in which patients are compared to norms within the population. "That makes sense when you don't have a baseline for yourself," Pande said.

    By contrast, Q Bio's methods recognize that "you can actually be within tolerance of a population norm, but be way out of scope for your personal norm," Pande said. He added that he believes Q Bio's approach, along with the large amount of measurements it tests, will significantly reduce the risk of false positives (Robbins, STAT News, 2/20).

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