By now you have probably seen or used (or even built) a device that can be considered part of the Quantified Self movement. It seems that there’s one for every letter of the alphabet, from the Adidas miCoach to the Zeo sleep monitor. The Holy Grail of Quantified Self devices is the tricorder, a fictional hand-held device from the Star Trek Universe that can collect and analyze data from multiple sources. In the medical technology sphere, the concept of a tricorder – which has made a comeback thanks to Qualcomm’s Tricorder X Prize – is a hand-held device that can collect vital sign data and even diagnose patients on the spot.
One of the leading companies vying to build a tricorder is Sillicon Valley-based start-up Scanadu. In December they announced three products that they hope to release this year: the SCOUT, ScanaFlu, and ScanaFlo. Just to pick one to describe, the SCOUT is purported to be able to collect pulse transit time, heart rate, electrical heart activity, temperature, heart rate variability, and blood oxygenation by simply being held next to one’s temple for about 10 seconds. It then transmits this information to a smart phone via Bluetooth. Cool!
We have since caught up with the Scanadu team and had the opportunity to interview their Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Alan Greene, to glean more information about their plans for revolutionizing medicine.
Shiv Gaglani, Medgadget: How did you get involved with Scanadu?
Dr. Alan Greene: For a very long time I have been interested in helping people get the right information so they can better understand and manage their own health, and as a result have better conversations with their doctors. A lot of the anxiety around being sick comes from the unknown, and being armed with information about your own health will relieve some of that. One of my first forays in this space was with my website, DrGreene.com, which came about during the “Wild West” of the Internet, before Google. Back then it was very difficult for people to find health information; one of the only options, and then not even a good one, was the library. I initially started DrGreene.com to complement my practice, but soon found that it was getting a lot of traffic from people located in other cities, states, and countries. I realized then that there was an unmet need in the form of a large gap between what people knew about their health and what they wanted to know about their health.
Though the last 15 years have seen a remarkable improvement in a patient’s ability to get medical information via the Internet, they still cannot get much information about their own health. And so when I met up with Walter [Walter De Brouwer, Scanadu’s CEO] at a birthday party and then others on the Scanadu team at TEDMED it seemed like a perfect fit because that is exactly what their mission – our mission – is. Scanadu has an incredible team of engineers, programmers, business people, and visionaries all working together to accomplish the goal of helping people become more informed, so this is the last generation to know so little about their health.
Medgadget: Based on Walter’s story behind Scanadu and the video on your home page, it appears that a principle group that you all are marketing to is parents. Can you comment on your target market, and how products like the SCOUT can help them?
Dr. Greene: We are definitely looking to reach out to parents early on because we believe they may be quick to adopt our systems. After all, the aim of our products is to provide quick, actionable health information that can translate into people receiving necessary care or, where appropriate, allaying unfounded concerns. Who more concerned about others’ welfare than parents about their children? Eventually, Scanadu aims to change how everyone understands and interacts with their health and that of their loved ones.
In terms of how products like Project Scanadu SCOUT can help accomplish this, the very first bit of information that people should have in order to frame a discussion about their health are their vital signs. Project Scanadu SCOUT can give them their temperature, heart rate, heart rate variability, and oxygen saturation, for example. When they are feeling ill this information will help them provide important information to their healthcare providers. When they are feeling fine, they can still aggregate information that will teach them how their bodies change over time. This is the personalized medicine side of things; vital signs are normally different for men versus women, eight-week olds versus eighty year olds, and they change not only season to season, but hour to hour.
Medgadget: How did you decide on the vital signs to be included in your initial products?
Dr. Greene: Most office, clinic and ER visits start with taking the vital signs as the foundation for the conversation and decision making that follows. We allow people to almost effortlessly log the same information wherever they are as a basis for their own health search or for their conversation with their physicians. People can also learn a lot by tracking their own vitals, such as temperature. The same temperature at 4 pm might be normal, but at 4 am might be a fever, based on an individual’s generated temperature curve.
Medgadget: That means there’s a lot of potentially interesting public health data – do you plan on aggregating these into population statistics?
Dr. Greene: Exactly. We think that Scanadu’s platforms may help us aggregate a large amount of anonymized data that is not only time-stamped but also geo-tagged since it is synced with mobile phones. Thus we may be able to see when and where there are interesting trends in blood pressure, or in the case of Project ScanaFlu incidence spikes in specific strains of bacteria or viruses that lead to upper respiratory infections.
Medgadget: What types of definitive diagnoses may be possible with each device?
Dr. Greene: At this time, Project Scanadu SCOUT is an educational tool. While it won’t make direct diagnoses it will provide consumers with information to make better decisions about their health and if needed, provide more information to their doctors. We’ve all been in the situation where you start to feel ill and wonder should I go to the doctor, should go to the pharmacy and get some medicine, or should I just rest? Project Scanadu SCOUT will give the consumer more information to better make that decision.
The exact tests for Project ScanaFlo and Project ScanaFlu are still being finalized, however at this time we anticipate Project ScanaFlo will test for pregnancy complications, preeclampisa, gestational diabetes, kidney failure and urinary tract infections. Project ScanaFlu will provide early detection for Strep A, Influenza A, Influenza B, Adenovirus and RSV.
Medgadget: Can you comment on your FDA approval process?
Dr. Greene: It has been exciting to work with the FDA because they have been very supportive and receptive to working with innovative companies. While we cannot specify which pathway of approval we’re pursuing, we can say that we hope to receive approval by for our initial products in 2013.
Medgadget: Many devices have been released recently with the purpose of helping people collect health information, but few of them provide actionable recommendations. Are you planning on building a recommendation engine on top of Scanadu’s products?
Dr. Greene: Definitely. Our initial firmware releases will provide a core set of recommendations, such as whether they should go see a clinician or not, and future updates will provide more nuanced recommendations.
Medgadget: Can you discuss what makes SCANADU different from its competitors? (Are the devices more accurate, cheaper, more portable, etc?)
Dr. Greene: There aren’t actually any direct competitors to Scanadu right now – no one else is doing what we’re doing. Other products in the market track for activity and individual health parameters such as blood pressure and heart rate, but we are building a more comprehensive device. Project Scanadu SCOUT will enable consumers to track their health vitals over time so they have data in their personal healthfeed that will help them better understand their normal ranges and be able to have more educated conversations with their doctors.
To learn more about Scanadu, visit their website and watch the concept video below:
Link: Scanadu homepage…