Afraid of needles? These start-ups are working on alternatives

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USA Today on 07/08/2018 by Mike Feibus, Special for USA Today

As many as one in four Americans are afraid of needles. That’s led a handful of start-ups to develop alternatives to hypodermic syringes.

This would be good news for health care: While needles provide an effective tool for vaccinations and treatments that the stomach’s digestive juices would neutralize if taken orally, needle phobia keeps many from getting the care they need.

From a purely clinical perspective, at least 10 percent of us exhibit a physiological response to syringes, like fainting. But surveys indicate that the number of needle-averse among us is closer to one in four. In 2001, a Gallup survey pegged the fear of “needles and getting shots” at 21 percent, making it the sixth most prevalent fear in the country, just behind “spiders and insects.” A survey by Harris Interactive for Target in 2012, for example, revealed that 23 percent polled forego a flu shot because they’re afraid of needles.

Failed startup Theranos targeted needle phobia to attract hundreds of millions of dollars in investment for needle-free blood-drawing technology. The company’s spectacular rise and fall hasn’t dampened prospects for the drug delivery market, which is forecast to top $14 billion by 2024, according to Grand View Research. Getting the quarter of Americans who avoid treatment because of needles could have an alternative benefit: making a dent in the country’s $3.3 trillion healthcare bill as well.