Scanadu’s tagline contains a challenge: “We are the last generation to know so little about our health.” Scanadu is dedicated to changing that.
Sam and Walter De Brouwer are the cofounders of Scanadu, a company devoted to creating sophisticated consumer health devices. The drive to make a real Tricorder was a family crisis. Sam described what happened at a presentation I attended recently at NewCo Silicon Valley:
“Like being stranded on another planet”
“Your loved one has had a very bad trauma, and you are taken to a strange place, where you don’t recognize anything. People are speaking a language you cannot understand. Your child is attached to machines, and the machines display numbers and make beeps and buzzes that make no sense. You stay in this place - an Intensive Care Unit room for 23 hours, waiting for a ten minute conversation with a doctor. It is like being stranded on another planet.
You feel very isolated. You don’t understand what is going on, but you have to make very important decisions.
And we were not alone. There are many, many families in the same situation.”
Tiny Devices Deliver Huge Results
After the crisis passed, Walter said to his wife Sam, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a device like a tricorder from Star Trek? You could wave a small wand and understand immediately what was happening inside the body.”
Three days later, Qualcomm announced their $10 million Tricorder XPRIZE competition. Walter and Sam, both veteran internet entrepreneurs, saw the XPRIZE announcement as a personal challenge; to make their dream of putting medical data into the hands of consumers a reality. They founded Scanadu.
The company’s mission is simple. Scanadu is creating discrete, affordable consumer devices that gather health data. That data is processed on the user’s smart phone, and translated into health metrics. The health data can then be shared with doctors, creating a common record of the patient’s health.
Their first product is the Scanadu Scout™ - a white disk, about the size of a tin of mints, with a single button in the center.
Imagec courtesy of Scanadu. Used with permission.
Press the button and Scanadu wakes up the app on your smart phone, then simply hold the Scout to your forehead for a few seconds. A simple electrical circuit links the heart and the device, and the Scout measures the following discrete metrics:
- Heart Rate
- Systolic / Diastolic Blood Pressure
- Core Temperature
- Blood Oxygenation (Sp02)
Importantly, you can gather this data whenever you want, and both doctor and patient benefit from more data points. For instance, how does your blood pressure vary during the day? Do some activities or circumstances cause large changes in heart rate? Up? Or down?
There is a well-known phenomenon called “White Coat Syndrome.” Just because a patient is being tested by a doctor, their blood pressure rises above normal. Doctors are resigned to taking a reading which they know doesn’t represent the patient’s true state. With a Scout, you can test in less stressful circumstances, and give your doctor more accurate data.
Patients Empower Themselves
Sam De Brouwer says, “In the United States, a patient spends an average of 12 minutes each year speaking to a General Practitioner. In China, the average wait in an emergency room is six hours.” A shift away from a top-down, centralized medical care system seems inevitable.
Scanadu advocates a new paradigm for health care. Sam De Brouwer thinks the next generation of health care will be:
- Decentralized - Health care doesn’t need to take place in hospitals or clinics
- Consumerized - As more data is available to consumers, they inevitably become active stakeholders of their health
- Mobile - The ubiquity and processing power of smart phones mean health data is always available
- Personalized - Each person’s data can be observed, and treatment tuned to meet individual health needs
The Scanadu Scout paves the way for this new paradigm. It’s affordable, at less than $200 for the unit. It’s instant: the results display on your smartphone in seconds. And as Sam De Bouwer says, it’s “frictionless.” The data belongs to the consumer, and only the consumer can consent to share their medical information.
Based on Scanadu’s experience to date, there is a growing demand for devices like the Scout among consumers. Scanadu has recruited more than 4,000 early users in the United States, and another 3,000 users spread across 100 countries. Having lots of testers means software engineers have lots of data points to precisely calibrate sensor results. And a large user group enables Scanadu to speed the path to FDA compliance. Sam De Brouwer says that Scanadu is collaborating with the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) in San Diego to perform the study. In fact, she says that the US group of 4,000 users constitutes the largest consumer health study ever performed in the country.
The Scanadu Scout is only the first device to be created by the young company. The next product in development is Scanadu Urine, a disposable kit that performs 12 different diagnostic tests.
Image courtesy of Scanadu. Used with permission.
The conventional way to test kidney and liver functions is to visit a hospital or clinic, leave a sample, and wait days for laboratory results. Now, a consumer can perform the test at home, see results, and learn what they mean on their smart phone in ten minutes. The Scanadu Urine performs 12 different analyses, from glucose levels to signs of UTI, delivering a detailed profile of kidney and liver function in real time.
Creating a New Knowledge
Scanadu’s tagline contains the challenge that the company has put before themselves. “We are the last generation to know so little about our health.” Scanadu is dedicated to changing that. Scanadu will give people detailed knowledge about their health, rich data that can lead to better understanding and better diagnostics. Imagine knowing what’s going on inside your body before you see a doctor. And perhaps, the frightening, bewildering, incomprehensible experience that Walter and Sam De Brouwer had in that Intensive Care Unit will be a thing of the past.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.