When a child feels sick, one of the first things a parent does is reach for a thermometer.
That common reaction got one man thinking.
Inder Singh is a health policy expert. He wondered what if the thermometer, in addition to measuring body temperature, could serve as a communications device? Could it then connect people with information about infections and gather real-time data on diseases as they spread?
That is the idea behind Singh’s health data business. The San Francisco-based company, called Kinsa, sells “smart” thermometers.
Worst flu season in years
Many people in the United States are sick with influenza this winter. In fact, this is reported to be the country’s worst flu season in 15 years.
Over the past several weeks, Kinsa has been following the spread and severity of flu-like symptoms across the country. The company says its findings are similar to those reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Singh told VOA that the CDC collects information about the spread of the flu from state and regional reports. But he adds Kinsa is able to identify high rates of infection in even smaller areas or by cities.
Fast and detailed information about how disease is spreading can make a difference during a health crisis.
Singh said, “If you knew when and where a disease was starting, you could target the people who needed the treatment and potentially prevent pandemics and epidemics from occurring.”
How the smart thermometer works
A Kinsa thermometer sells for anywhere between $14.99 and $49.99 in the U.S.
Users connect the device through Bluetooth wireless technology to a smartphone app. The software program asks questions about a person’s condition. The user’s personal information is kept private, the company said.
With its thermometers in 500,000 homes nationwide, Kinsa says it receives 25,000 temperature readings every day.
The company cannot identify diseases or recognize differences between different kinds of diseases.
But from gathering data about individuals’ body temperatures and other information, Kinsa can report where flu-like symptoms are rising. In recent weeks, it found the flu has infected many people in two states: Missouri and Kansas.
Selling aggregated data
In addition to selling thermometers and advertising on its app, Kinsa makes money by selling data to businesses. Singh says that his company removes any personally identifiable information.
The buyers, such as drug companies, want to know where and how sickness is spreading. They fill stores with products and change marketing plans if they know how a sickness is progressing.
Kinsa has launched a program in schools, where it gives away thermometers, so parents can learn about the general health of the community. The company is also starting an effort with some U.S. businesses, which buy the smart thermometers for their employees. When an employee has a high temperature, Kinsa can inform the person about available health care assistance.
Currently, Kinsa thermometers are sold just in the United States. But the company plans to sell them overseas.
“Imagine a living breathing map where you can see where and when disease is spreading,” Singh said. “That’s what we want.”
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Michelle Quinn and Deana Mitchell reported this story for VOANews.com. George Grow adapted their report for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
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Words in This Story
thermometer – n. an instrument used for measuring temperature
data – n. facts or information that is produced or stored on a computer
smart – adj. controlled by computers
symptom – n. a change in a person’s health which is a sign of a disease
regional – adj. related to or involving a part of a country or state
pandemic – n. an event in which a disease spreads quickly and affects many people over a wide area
epidemic – n. an event in which a disease spreads quickly and affects many people