Fortune Senior Editor Robert Parloff, who wrote a cover story on Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes in June 2014, now says he was misled by the company.
Back when the Silicon Valley-based startup, known for its blood tests which allegedly only used a finger-prick’s worth of blood, was still largely keeping quiet about how its technology worked, Parloff reported that the 200 tests the company offered could run “without the need for a syringe.”
On Thursday in a new story for Fortune, Parloff called that a “whopping false statement.”
It wasn’t until Theranos came under fire in October after the Wall Street Journal raised questions about the accuracy of the company’s test results that Parloff started to retrace his steps, he said.
“After Theranos’s Oct. 22 statement, I contacted officials there to inquire how many tests it had actually been commercially performing by proprietary means in June 2014, when I had reported that it was offering more than 200. A spokesperson acknowledged to me that it was fewer than 200, but declined to specify how many. She said she’d send a statement.
The company’s statement arrived Nov. 3. ‘As discussed when you visited Theranos,’ it said, ‘Theranos could perform hundreds of tests (more than 200) using its proprietary technologies. The reports you reviewed at Theranos covered many of those tests Theranos developed for use with finger-stick samples.'”
Essentially, the conversation had a number of nuances that had been boiled down to the idea that all 200 tests offered by Theranos at print time could be run using the nanotainers. From the time Parloff started his reporting to the time the article ran, the number of tests Theranos offered jumped from 100 to more than 200, which Parloff said he assumed meant that the nanotainer technology was being used on all of them.
But while he was reporting, Parloff also heard rumours from people who had went to Theranos Wellness Centres, where the tests are administered, that they were disappointed to find out that they were getting regular blood tests, not finger-prick tests as they had assumed.
And Theranos’ answers had reinforced that simplification, Parloff said. But in reality, the situation was a lot more complex than that, involving other tests using other (still less-invasive methods). Those involved something called venipuncture, a way of taking a blood sample that’s less painful than a normal venous draw and requires less blood.
“As much as I’d like to say that Holmes lied to me, I don’t think she did. I do believe I was misled — intentionally — but I was also culpable, in that I failed to probe certain exasperatingly opaque answers that I repeatedly received.”
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