The future of reproductive healthcare in United States remains uncertain. Many people are asking themselves what they would do if they no longer had healthcare coverage, or if they couldn’t access Planned Parenthood. The search for solutions that are independent, but parallel, to the traditional healthcare systems has already begun. And as is the case for many answers we seek in the modern age, those inquiries often start on the internet. If you Google “at-home STD testing kit,” for instance, you’ll come across something called myLAB Box.
myLAB Box was created in 2013 by Lora Ivanova and Ursula Hessenflow. The inspiration for the start-up manifested during an otherwise unremarkable, though relatable, moment between friends: they had gotten together to drink, bitch about bad dates and discuss things that they wished they had the power to change about the world.
“I’m sure you found yourself in those situations where you’re talking with a friend, or an idea comes to your mind and you thought: ‘Oh my God, it would be great if somebody did that?’” Ivanova said, “I promised myself that one year, that I would—if I had that idea, I would be that somebody who would actually do something about it.”
Ivanova and Hessenflow’s concept for at-home STD testing arose from discussing the problematic conversations they’d had with partners about STDs: “We started talking about how awkward it is to have these [sexual health] conversations with partners—and why is that? We both kind of walked away from that conversation feeling like there’s got to be a better way … there’s just gotta be something out there.”
It’s not just relationships that can make talking about STDs awkward: healthcare professionals aren’t exactly known for their tact, either. “Some actually say things like, ‘You don’t look at risk,’ or ‘You don’t seem like you need to worry about it.’ It doesn’t take a ‘promiscuous lifestyle’ to get an STI. It just takes one encounter.”
Ivanova was also quick to point out that the overall user experience in the traditional healthcare system isn’t exactly lauded, “They say, you know, ‘We’ll call you if something is wrong.’ That’s not really a good experience for the user: ‘You’ll hear from us sometime in the next week if there’s a problem’— what if you miss a phone call? You think, ‘Oh my god, do I have HIV?’”
Thus driven, Ivanova and Hessenflow went on a quest for accessible, affordable and reliable STD testing that could be purchased online without a prescription and provided actionable information for the consumer. Despite not having any previous experience in healthcare (Lora was self-described as “climbing the corporate ladder” in greater Los Angeles—she and Hessenflow both have backgrounds in PR) the two started researching what it would take to bring at-home STD testing to life (the internet, an idea and dedication can get you a long way as an entrepreneur).
“The biggest finding was there was nothing out there,” Ivanova said, which affirmed that she and Ursula had found their cause. They began researching everything from patents to pharmaceuticals. Healthcare is not the easiest industry to infiltrate when it comes to innovation, but they persisted.
What they ultimately developed was a kit that could be mailed to your home, then mailed back to a laboratory for processing. Not unlike how often times, if you give a sample at the doctor’s office, it gets transported to an off-site lab, myLAB Box mails you everything you need to collect a sample, and provides the packaging you need to safely send it back. Once the kit has been processed and your results are ready, the sharing of those results is as equally streamlined. Utilizing an online interface for securely sharing health information provided myLab Box with an enviable follow-through straight up to the end; a UX swoop if there ever was one.
“Within a 24-hour period of time you can ultimately get your results, get a consultation and get a prescription,” Ivanova said. “You’re on your way to treatment faster than any prior precedent.”
Once they had the basic prototype down, they had to develop relationships with labs that were certified to test the samples in all 50 states, and find physicians who would provide consultation services, write prescriptions for medication if necessary and generally oversee the company’s adherence to healthcare standards. So, Ivanova and Hessenflow brought on Dr. Gary Richwald as their medical director.
Dr. Richwald is not without accolades of his own: for more than a decade he was the Director of the Los Angeles County STD Program largest provider of sexual health and disease-related services in the United States. If there was an expert source in the LA area for Lora and Ursula to get a blessing from, Dr. Richwald would be it.
“myLAB Box goes beyond just offering a lab-certified diagnosis by providing an opportunity to speak with a doctor and even to get a prescription from the comfort of your home in the states that allow telemedicine,” Dr. Richwald explained via email. “This protects the privacy of the patient and makes getting tested for STDs far more appealing. It’s a better solution for everyone.”
myLAB Box’s founders are deeply aware of how the current sociopolitical climate in the U.S. makes the service more essential than ever. “We’ve always been prepared,” Ivanova told me via email when I asked her about the outcome of the election and its impact on myLAB Box. “One of our core intentions when developing the myLAB Box at home lab testing service was making sure that each and every test package is affordable with or without insurance. We protect your health affordably, by design.”
myLAB Box is a company ideally positioned to be part of what could be a reproductive health revolution — but politics aside, people have long been frustrated with the inefficiencies of a cumbersome healthcare system paired with a society that doesn’t just stigmatize sexually transmitted disease, but talking about it.
Note: the author was given a complimentary kit by the company for testing. Images courtesy of myLAB Box.
Abby Norman is writer based in New England. She’s currently working on a memoir for Nation Books and is the weekend science editor at Futurism. Her work has been featured in The Rumpus, Atlas Obscura, The Establishment, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Medium, The Independent, and others. She’s represented by Tisse Takagi in New York City.