Kinsa’s smart thermometer aims to combat illness with big data – San Jose Mercury News

SAN FRANCISCO — When Amity Winters found out that her 5-year-old son Desmond threw up at school, the mom not only made a mental note of his body temperature, but kept a digital record in her smartphone.

She took his temperature with a smart thermometer called Kinsa, monitoring the data on a mobile app that syncs up with the device, until it became clear from Desmond’s 102 degree fever that he needed to see a doctor. Turns out he had a stomach bug.

“It was nice to go into the doctor’s appointment and when she asked what happened and when I could go in and look at my phone,” said Winters, who lives in San Francisco.

There are health apps that track the steps people walk, calories devoured and hours slept, but Kinsa’s goal is more than just about giving parents and children peace of mind.

Amity Winters, 37, takes temperature of her son Julian Winters, 2, with the Kinsa smart thermometer at their home in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday,

Amity Winters, 37, takes temperature of her son Julian Winters, 2, with the Kinsa smart thermometer at their home in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, March 11, 2016. (John Green/Bay Area News Group) ( JOHN GREEN )

Even as statisticians leverage social media to track foodborne illnesses, researchers use smartphones to figure out how malaria is spreading and health agencies conduct surveys, the tech firm says real-time aggregated data from people who have just fallen ill is still needed to paint a more accurate picture of illnesses nearby.

“Our mission is to create a real-time map of human health data … and stop the spread of disease,” said Inder Singh, the founder and CEO of Kinsa.

Founded in 2012, Singh said the idea for Kinsa stemmed from his passion for nonprofit work, but also his own frustrations while working as the executive vice president of the Clinton Health Access Initiative. He recalled sitting in meetings where donors would disagree about the number of malaria cases around the world, yet there was so many real-time stats available on a phone in the palm of his hand. A year later, Singh was experiencing flu-like symptoms and had a 104-degree fever. Antibiotics weren’t working, doctors couldn’t figure out then what was wrong and Googling symptoms only fed into paranoia.

“That’s when the grand system problem boiled down to a very personal one. The what’s going around question,” he said. Singh eventually got better, though the exact illness still remains a mystery to him.

To create a real-time map of health data, Singh recognizes that he needs to get hundreds of thousands of people to share stats about their body temperature and common symptoms such as a runny nose, cough or sore throat. Kinsa, which recently moved from New York to San Francisco, has about 30 employees and raised $12.6 million in funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and other investors.

Amity Winters, 37, takes temperature of her son Julian Winters, 2, with the Kinsa smart thermometer at their home in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday,

Amity Winters, 37, takes temperature of her son Julian Winters, 2, with the Kinsa smart thermometer at their home in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, March 11, 2016. (John Green/Bay Area News Group) ( JOHN GREEN )

Aware of the privacy concerns over health data, Singh said that the app allows people to post anonymously about their illnesses and the information is aggregated so it doesn’t identify individuals.

Kinsa users who are part of a group at work or in schools can view data about how many people are sick, what illnesses are spreading or messages from other people. The tech firm also has a program called FLUency where families at chosen schools get a free thermometer to get a sense of what illnesses are circulating around the school.

Chris Grubb, an Oregon parent and an early adopter of Kinsa, helped bring the program to Forest Hills Elementary in Lake Oswego.

“Most of the parents I’ve talked to have found it helpful to have one more data point,” he said.

If he sees that a flu or cold is spreading around, he can tell his son to wash his hands more often in the classroom or use other preventative measures, Grubb notes.

The Kinsa app includes a game that allows kids to pop bubbles, keeping them occupied as parents take their temperature.

There are more than 100 schools in the United States actively participating in the FLUency program, including six schools in California, according to the company. Austin, Texas, is currently the only city where Kinsa members can see their health “weather,” which shows them the percentage of users in the area who have reported a sickness and what illnesses are spreading, from stomach flu to the common cold.

On a stormy and windy day in San Francisco, Winters sat on the couch with her youngest son Julian as he munched on an apple.

He giggled as his mom hooked up the thermometer to a smartphone and then placed the device under his arm. But the 2-year-old’s eyes became fixated on the clear bubbles that he enjoys popping as the device quickly reads his temperature. “I want some more bubbles,” he said.

Asked if he liked using the thermometer, Julian grinned as he places the device back under his arm for more bubble popping.

Contact Queenie Wong at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/QwongSJ.

LEARN MORE

The Kinsa stick
thermometer (at left) costs $24.99, but may be on sale at certain retailers. It can be purchased online at kinsahealth.com and the mobile health tracker app is free to download at Google Play or Apple’s App Store.
The Kinsa ear thermometer costs $59.99. U.S. stores who carry Kinsa include Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, Target and CVS.

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