IoT offers a way to track COVID-19 via connected thermometers

The COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted one manufacturer of connected thermometers to national prominence, as Kinsa provides a possible window into the spread of the disease.

United States influenza map of cumulative atypical illness, 2020-04 -1, by Kinsa
Kinsa / Leaflet / OpenStreetMap / CARTO

A company called Kinsa is leveraging IoT tech to create a network of connected thermometers, collecting a huge amount of anonymous health data that could offer insights into the current and future pandemics.

The company’s founder and CEO, Inder Singh, said that the ability to track fever levels across the U.S. in close to real time could be a crucial piece of information for both the public at large and for decision-makers in the healthcare sector and government.

The system’s networking technology is relatively straightforward – the thermometer connects via Bluetooth to an app on the user’s phone, which reports anonymized data back to Kinsa’s cloud over the Internet. Singh emphasizes that the company only organizes data down to the county level, and asserts that identifying individuals through Kinsa’s data is more or less impossible.

“We’re not providing PII, we’re not providing identified data,” he said. “The app just guides you to the care and services you need.”

Armed with the temperature reading and some basic demographic information about the person whose temperature was taken and their other symptoms, the app can offer rudimentary guidance about whether a visit to the doctor is needed or not, and whether the user’s area is seeing unusual levels of fever.

However, the real value is in the aggregated data that Kinsa analyzes and breaks out on its U.S. Health Weather Map, gleaned from the million-plus thermometers in the company’s ecosystem. The idea, according to Singh, is to provide the public with a way to make more informed decisions about their health.

“It’s very participatory,” he said. “Everyone gets the data, and everyone can respond.”

Kinsa still sells its thermometers directly to consumers, but plans are afoot for the company to collaborate more closely with local governments, health authorities and even school districts – Singh said that Kinsa is already partnering with two U.S. states (which he declined to name), and several city governments, including St. Augustine, Florida.

“Our hope is that we can figure out how to build a scalable model – we’re never gonna scale globally by just selling $20 thermometers,” he said. The goal is to become widespread enough that the product can act as a meaningful early warning system for the healthcare sector.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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