No one likes giving blood, or going to the doctor, or getting test results.
Never mind the stark clinical setting, or that everywhere you look there are posters warning about all the things you don’t want – lupus, diabetes, asthma – and none of the things you do, like energy, vitality and longevity.
In an insurance-based system, you can also find yourself in front of a doctor who gets impatient with your questions, or refuses when you ask for additional tests.
When I went through a series of tests to get to the bottom of a gut issue earlier this year, I was left pretty demoralized. No one was putting anything together, and I couldn’t help but feel that the entire system is geared to treating us as a collection of body parts on the brink of disease, rather than whole humans who were designed to thrive.
We don’t get off scot-free, either: many of us couldn’t decipher our borderline A1C (a three-month average of blood sugar levels) from our C-reactive protein (an inflammation marker) – both vital indications of our overall health. We hand over management of our most basic functions to doctors we barely ever see, and there is something upside-down about that.
Which brings me to one of the great innovations in health care in recent years: a crop of new companies offering a range of at-home testing and interpretation that cuts out a lot of what we hate about going to the doctor. That store and interpret our tests, treating us like an equal partner – if not the manager – of our own biological functions.
Unfortunately, a lot of this is paid for out-of-pocket, but that’s becoming a lot more affordable too.
Dubai-based startup Valeo Health has emerged as one of the leaders in the region. This startup, from co-founders Sundeep Sahni and Nadin Karadag, does a wide range of blood testing at home, stores them in a free app, with easy-to-read graphics and a downloadable PDF of results. They also have doctors to interpret results and help you make whatever plans for improvement are needed.
The company reached out to us here at Livehealthy just as I was about to embark on paying for a load of bloodwork, so I ordered the Advance Female Blood Test (Dh595; provided for the purpose of this review by Valeo Health) and then added seven additional tests requested by my doctor, which I paid for myself (Dh435).
What I loved
The communication with customer service: Valeo has really responsive and friendly support: there was a lot of back and forth as I asked about the additional tests. Once we booked my appointment, they informed me that I had to fast for eight to 10 hours, and that the nurse would arrive between 8am and 10am. I misunderstood this to mean that the test would last for two hours (my fault) which led to me fasting for too long. (More on that in a bit).
The convenience and comfort: You just cannot beat someone showing up to your door and being focused on the task at hand. Every time I go to the hospital or doctor’s office, I think way too much about sickness – and that leads to a sense of unease that is difficult for me to shake.
The expertise: The nurse Valeo sent the second time (see below) was confident and capable; the entire process was quick and painful.
The results: My second blood test was on a Monday morning and the results were ready by Tuesday night. Valeo sends a message to your phone and email when the results are ready. Once in the app, I could see my results divided up into a variety of sections – iron, liver, kidney, etc – and when I clicked to expand, was greeted with color-coded charts showing my findings and where they fell into yellow, green and red zones representing low, normal and high ranges. There was also a downloadable PDF that had more specific information.
The post-test consult: Each test comes with a 15-minute consult and mine was with Dr Mahmoud Musa, an integrative general practitioner who takes a holistic approach. In addition to patiently going through the results and answering all my questions, he also provided feedback on the supplement list I had previously provided. He told me I really didn’t need to take B12 for the foreseeable future, as my levels were high. He also asked why I was taking creatine, and I didn’t really have a good answer other than a trainer I interviewed had recommended it. He said that it could be hard on the kidneys and was really only necessary if I was doing extreme workouts. I have never had a mainstream doctor even ask about my supplements before, so it was refreshing to have such guidance. The best part? He told me I was a healthy human, and that even my borderline blood sugar was okay because it marked a reduction from previous tests – and ultimately with the changes I continue to make, was headed in the right direction.
The price: Things get steeper when you go off-menu, but the price for all the packages is less than you would pay for in a lab.
What I didn’t
The expertise: I really should have disclosed that I have had an issue getting blood in the past. The first nurse Valeo sent was very tentative and not up to the job of getting blood from my small, deep veins. I am used to this, but in a hospital or clinic setting, there is always someone on hand to give it another try – and they are usually successful. With an at-home test is this isn’t an option. I also ended up fasting for an extra hour – my own miscalculation – meaning that when the first nurse did hit a vein, the blood flow was too slow to get a sample. Valeo, however, was great in dealing with the issue, rescheduling and following up.
Missing information: Several of the tests I ordered weren’t in the first round of results. They were added in after I asked about them. When I showed my gastroenterologist the results, he was happy about it. However he also said one of the tests was incorrect, so we redid it.
The longevity score: Valeo gives you a longevity score inside the app, and I have some quibbles with it. Even when I added my missing tests back in, they didn’t seem to be reflected on the score. I got “fair” on hormones and I’m assuming because my estradiol was low. But I am a 53-year-old woman; my estradiol is meant to be low.
The bottom line
There is one drawback about at-home testing, and it’s a big one for people with health anxiety: instead of having the tests explained to you by a doctor, you receive them and view them yourself. This can lead to some unsettling hours or days until the doctor consult. But that’s why we are doing this testing in the first place: to take preventative action, right?
Valeo Health’s at-home blood testing is a major time and money-saver, as is the most important part: having a knowledgeable, holistic doctor to interpret them for you. The app is a handy way to keep track of my levels, for now and maybe forever – although it’s important to make a decision at the outset if you want to be tied to it. And while I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the missing tests before, I’d like the process to be a bit more seamless next time around.
You can order a ton of tests through Valeo – DNA, Dutch, stool, mould, GI map, heavy metal, sexual health, PCR, family, and more – and they all come with that vital 15-minute consult. There are also options to pay for more comprehensive health coaching with a doctor (Dh80 per session) should you desire. This is a huge value, as finding a practitioner to provide this outside the medical system would cost hundreds of dirhams.
• Valeo Health is offering Livehealthy readers a discount; just use code LH20 upon checkout.