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Red Flags To Watch Out For With Health Companies

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

As a consumer, it’s very difficult to tell which company is credible and which isn’t.

I’m seeing a proliferation of shitty companies producing even shittier products and you wouldn’t be able to figure it out from their website.

Frankly, this is terrifying because people are handing over their health data to companies who have no business having it. 

I’ve spoken to the CEOs of hundreds of companies in the precision health space, and some of them are really good at selling their products when I know they’re shit.

So, here are some quick and reliable tips for calling their BS and knowing whether a precision health company, especially a genetic testing company, actually deserves your business. 

1. Check the Company’s LinkedIn & About Page

The most important thing you want to know is who works for the company, because these are the people who are actually building the product. If they aren’t properly qualified, it’s pretty much impossible to end up with a reliable product, especially when it comes to biotech products.

In particular, you want to see the team involved in the science.

You must discount all of the consultants and advisors, because they do not actually work for the company. Advisors are purely for marketing and business development (to help with networking).

Any company can get top scientists as scientific advisors if they are paid enough. Professors in top universities will advise for almost any company that pays them enough.

This is a method that a lot of shady companies use to show they are “scientific”, but it’s absolutely meaningless. It’s much cheaper to hire a science advisor than a full-time employee who is going to build a legit product. So, it’s a common approach used by marketing-first companies who want to focus their spending on marketing rather than product development.

Personally, I prefer to allocate resources towards creating a legit product instead of just seeming legit, which is why we haven’t hired any science advisors at SelfDecode.

While looking through LinkedIn profiles of everyone at these companies, I also pay attention to how many people have side gigs. Building scientifically accurate and high-quality precision health products is really hard and requires focus and dedication from many extremely talented people, so part-time effort just doesn’t cut it. That’s why we don’t allow people who work at SelfDecode to have side gigs (unless they have a very specific and short-term role).

Once you’ve taken a close look at the company’s LinkedIn and “About” page using the guidelines above, you should start to have an idea about whether the company has the ability to produce legitimate products. 

2. Look at How Many Variants are Being Sequenced or Genotyped

This is EXTREMELY important to know for genetic testing companies. Some companies use cheap testing kits that only analyze a small sample of SNPs. 

That means you are extremely limited in what you can do with that data because it’s not really enough data to do anything with. You should be looking for a company that genotypes or sequences at least 650k SNP variants (e.g. Illumina GSA – what SelfDecode uses).

These kits are designed in such a way that with the right machine learning and AI tools, you can predict many more millions of variants.

For example, our industry-leading imputation allows us to predict 83 million SNPs with 99.7% accuracy.

These types of files can be downloaded and uploaded elsewhere if desired. If you have a file like that, you can upload it to SelfDecode, where we accept around 20 different file types. We also accept whole genome and whole exome files.

However, a lot of companies only check for under 1000 variants and then people try to upload their files to our site, but it’s too few SNPs to be of value. 

I’ve spoken to many of these companies and tried to convince them against it, but they said it’s much cheaper to genotype fewer variants and it’s also easier to deal with the small amounts of data. They also claim that most consumers don’t notice the difference.

And they are right – most consumers don’t know the difference. If YOU, the consumer, don’t understand what to look for, you will get hoodwinked.

We get daily emails to our customer support team from consumers who want to use their previous DNA files with SelfDecode, but unfortunately we have to tell them that it has too few SNPs and they have to complete a new genotyping test.

3. Read Trustpilot & Reviews

Trustpilot is the best way to check reviews for companies. I look at every company’s Trustpilot reviews. For example, 23andme has a 1.6 star rating. I don’t like to call out individual companies, but once in a while I make exceptions 🙂

Almost all direct-to-consumer genomics companies get poor reviews in this space – probably because it’s a difficult industry to please consumers. 

There are many challenges in this industry to create a compelling product that is user-friendly, scientifically valid, and compliant with regulations. 

Genetics is not as simple as buying a pair of jeans (pun intended). It requires reading and learning. But, the payoffs of understanding your body’s blueprint are massive! 

We try our best to make sure every customer is happy and we are constantly improving our app every day. This is why our review score on Trustpilot – which you can’t fake – is 4.9, the highest in the industry!

In order to get this score, it really does require having the best app and also the best customer support.

Everyone I show the product to is blown away.

4. Read Their White Paper

Does the company have a white paper explaining their methodology for their genetic predictions or other health-related analysis?

A white paper is important to show people how a company sets up their models and their results. In my conversations with over 100 CEOs of direct to consumer health tech companies, almost none of them had a white paper showing how their models are built and their results.

At SelfDecode, we are very transparent and we have a white paper explaining how we calculate our genetic predisposition scores, the cutting-edge methods that we use, and our results. (you can check it out here!)

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About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen, BS

As a kid, Joe suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, mood and other issues that were poorly understood in both conventional and alternative medicine. Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a journey of self-experimentation and self-learning to improve his health--something that has since become known as “biohacking”. With thousands of experiments and pubmed articles under his belt, Joe founded SelfHacked, the resource that was missing when he needed it. SelfHacked now gets millions of monthly readers. Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, author and speaker. He is the CEO and founder of SelfDecode. His mission is to help people gain access to the most up-to-date, unbiased, and science-based ways to optimize their health.

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