The majority of clinical lab customers are patients with diseases and the purpose of the testing is to evaluate their status. Another component of the lab client base is wellness testing and disease surveillance. A third component that is now emerging is what I will refer to here as fitness monitoring (see: Quest’s Blueprint Lets Athletes Look Deeper Into Their Performances). Below is an excerpt from an article about this topic:
...[Richard Schwabacher] runs Quest Diagnostics’ Sports and Human Performance unit, the medical testing giant’s effort to take a product directly to consumers. Not just any consumers, but endurance athletes willing to spend a lot of money to enhance their performance....Training for and participating in an Ironman [competition] isn’t for the frugal[...;] it can run up to $15,000 a year....Quest is in the early stages of bringing a diagnostic tool called Blueprint for Athletes to those free-spenders. It’s recruited what it calls ambassadors—a couple dozen hard-core weekend warriors who regularly win or place in triathlons and ultramarathons—to test the product. It’s also rolled Blueprint out to consumers in endurance athlete havens including Houston, Denver, and Quest’s home base in northern New Jersey. Blueprint was born in part from an effort with the New York Giants football team, for which Quest became a sponsor in 2013....Quest and the [New York Giants] team doctors would analyze dozens of biomarkers...and offer specific advice. The results, Schwabacher says, were powerful as the athletes saw how they could change behavior and quickly improve their performance on the field by altering their workouts or diets.....Quest started honing Blueprint for serious amateur athletes as a way to help its overall business grow.....On Blueprint’s website, athletes can choose test packages designed to boost endurance, recovery, or nutrition. A clinician at a Quest location draws several vials of blood that are then analyzed. After a baseline test at the start of training, an athlete can come for follow-ups. Some get tested monthly; others check in quarterly. Test results are reviewed by a physician, who will flag anything he or she deems critical. The athlete ultimately gets a report that can be dozens of pages long, with details on everything from vitamin D to platelet count.
I partly trace the roots of this biomarker fitness monitoring to the anti-aging movement which I have blogged about for ten years. Here are some of the key links: Anti-Aging, Longevity Medicine, and Lab Testing; Anti-Aging Medicine as a Major Driver of Complex Lab Testing; Cost of Drugs for Aging Ranks Third Compared to Diabetes and High Cholesterol). An important element of an anti-aging workup by a physician has been to perform a large panel of biomarkers to compare the patient's so-called biologic age with his or her chronologic age. The goal of treatment was to lower the former in relationship to the latter with exercise and often various nutrients, the value of some of which were unproved. Some of the biomarkers used in the anti-aging field were also esoteric and sometimes questionable.
We now see Quest engaging with a new group of biomarker clients. It's probably of little concern from a business perspective that the number of marathoners and "ironmen" is relatively small. More importantly, Quest is now in the process of trying to better understand the use of "standard" labs tests to assess fitness. This knowledge will be useful not only for athletes but also for the the entire population. Monitoring fitness, which can be viewed as synonymous with wellness, will become just as important as monitoring and measuring disease. Blueprint for Athletes is offered directly to consumers so it's a form of direct-access-testing (DAT) which Quest and its main competitor, LabCorp, have only recently embraced (see: LabCorp to Offer Direct Access Lab Testing (DAT) to Consumers; Sonora Quest Competes with Theranos in Arizona with DAT Services).