From 2008 to 2011, Inder Singh was the executive vice president of the Clinton Health Access Initiative’s program to fight Malaria and HIV in Africa and South Asia. The campaign effectively brought down the cost of drugs by 90%, and helped tens of millions people receive treatment. Despite that success, “While I was there,” Singh says, “it struck me that if we just knew a little more about how the illness was spreading, we could do more.”
Then one day in 2011, Singh fell ill, and the antibiotics his doctor prescribed did nothing to quell his fever. A friend who is also an infectious disease doctor eventually sleuthed out that Singh had a lung infection that isn’t easily detectable by stethoscope, and simply needed different antibiotics. But in the meantime he conducted Google searches for clues about the mysterious symptoms–fever, fatigue, dizziness–in hopes of finding people with similar conditions, insight on his ailment, or even news of a bug going around, but it yielded a surprising void in online information. “It was ground zero,” he tells Co.Design. “It’s a travesty. I can’t live without Google Maps, and yet we know so little about health.”
These are the kinds of issues that Singh now plans to tackle with Kinsa, a smart thermometer and iOS or Android companion app. It looks and functions like a basic thermometer; the difference is on the back end. The device plugs into an iPhone’s headphone jack, so instead of waiting for a beep and a digit for the results, Kinsa shows the degree-by-degree rise in temperature on the phone’s screen. This is where a normal thermometer stops–you either have a fever or you don’t.
Kinsa keeps going, connecting users with what Singh calls the “health weather.” Is the flu going around your neighborhood? Are kids at your child’s school passing around strep throat? Who’s down with the chicken pox? Kinsa wants to provide that context, with the aim of preventing unnecessary and costly trips to the doctor along the way.
“In my view, a medical device that’s in the home ought to be doing two things,” Singh says. “It ought to be giving you information so you can respond. And it should be reassuring.”
Kinsa is full of friendly design details. The diameter and material of the wand won’t make kids uncomfortable, and an animated visual display of bubbles plays on-screen to coax the little ones into sitting still. For older kids who won’t be easily entranced by cartoon suds, Kinsa plans to incorporate a gaming component.
There’s a bigger picture: Like the Scanadu Scout, Kinsa is part of a larger tapestry of data companies, fitness wearables, and health gadgets that want to empower us to start owning our own data. Sensors give us on-demand insights into our health, whereas a doctor’s office means tests and a wait time for a phone call.
The challenge we face is in creating a centralized wealth of information that provides the kind of context Singh describes. Kinsa will curate data from the Department of Health, for things like pollen counts, but the power will ultimately come from individuals who crowdsource details about their health. It’s not out of the question. We love to share snippets of ourselves–our photos, our locations, our opinions on restaurants and dentists. If people can adjust to volunteering their vitals and symptoms, Kinsa could accomplish Singh’s heady mission: “to revolutionize the world’s most common medical device.”
Check out Kinsa here.