I saw many new devices at QS15 that would have been useful to me during my weight loss and health improvement journey. I’ll share about them individually so that I can give each the attention it deserves. I am working on a post about the trip to and from the quantified self conference, but that’s going to take a bit more time to put together!
The Scanadu Scout is was of the coolest devices I saw demonstrated at QS 15. The Scout is a small, disc-shaped device that is held between the thumb and forefinger and placed against your forehead It can measure your blood pressure without a cuff and also assess heart rate, respiration, blood oxygenation (SpO2) and temperature. I had a chance to try it out myself at the Saturday QS expo after seeing co-founder Sam DeBrouwer on the technology panel at the end of the QS15 conference day 1.
On a side note, when the members of the technology panel came out on stage, it struck me immediately that the panel was composed of four women. No one mentioned that this was the case, but I’d bet this is still a very rare occurrence. All-male expert panels are still extremely common. However, social media is creating an easy way to publicly shame conferences, government agencies and news shows or others that feature all-male expert panels. For example, this Tumblr blog is dedicated to public shaming of all-male expert panels and there are contributions from all areas.
I had a chance to meet three of the women from the QS health technology panel afterwards, including Sam, Jessica Richman of UBiome and Linda Avey. Linda co-founded 23 And Me and is now a co-founder of startup Curious, Inc, aimed at helping people access and combine their genetic data and connect with others who have similar questions about their health. I found it inspiring to hear about how these incredibly smart, thoughtful, articulate and future-thinking women leaders are working to transform the technologies and approaches we use to measure and understand health.
The other woman on the technology panel was Tan Le, co-founder of Emotiv, a company that makes a device to (yes, really!) measure your brainwaves. Brain monitoring was a big area of focus at the conference this year, but was of less interest to me than health and fitness related applications. I observed at the conference people tend to gravitate to devices and software that better help them measure their own particular interests, and I’m no exception.
So back to the Scout. Sam and her husband Walter DeBrouwer founded Scanadu after their experiences in the hospital with their young son who had suffered a traumatic brain injury. She mentioned how intimidating all the complex medical devices and monitors in the hospital were to them. She and Walter decided to learn about the technology involved in their son’s care and decided to move from Belgium to the US to found Scanadu and develop simple-to-use medical devices. The company has also developed a small urine analysis kit that can be used at home. The Scout is undergoing medical device review by the FDA while early customers who purchased through an Indiegogo campaign are engaged in usability testing.
The Scout looks like it belongs in an Apple Store-and it does feed your data into an iPhone app. During my opening show and tell talk I presented some data I gathered from my medical records of my blood pressure. Other than measurements from doctor’s visits, I just don’t have good data on my blood pressure over the years. My blood pressure has been a concern for me from time to time, but my numbers were never high enough to justify long-term daily monitoring and I’ll admit that when the issue lessened, I stopped measuring it. This wasn’t for lack of equipment-in fact, I have owned a cuff based blood pressure monitor for many years, purchased during a time when my blood pressure was worrisome. I bought the monitor long before smart phones and apps even existed so if I wanted to keep data, I had to write it down.
Although my blood pressure issues went away when I lost weight and became more fit, I still really love the idea of collecting blood pressure data with a simple home-based monitoring system. I could immediately see the value of the Scout as a data collection device, since it sent my data right to the app and you can export the data too. While struggling with my blood pressure issues in the past, I experienced so-called “whitecoat hypertension,” where my blood pressure was even higher when taken at the doctor’s office. In fact, during my pregnancies, nurses routinely took my blood pressure at the end of the appointment to compare to the measurement taken at the beginning. Even at the end of the appointment, the numbers were too high, but it was interesting to see them drop consistently between measurements. I think that more convenient home-based monitors like the Scout will help people with blood pressure issues or even white coat hypertension to monitor in a more comfortable home setting and on an ongoing basis without the annoyance of a cuff. They will also help people like me see trends in data collected over time or throughout the day.
Of course, the ultimate goal is even bigger. Scanadu is among the 10 finalists in the Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize competition, in which devices compete to gather five biomarkers and diagnose 16 disease states. The goal is to provide a direct to consumer device with a satisfying user experience. From what I’ve seen, the Scout is a strong candidate. It’s really amazing to see my real-life interests collide so directly with my Star Trek fandom. We already have the smart phone and smart watches that mimic the Star Trek communicators that seemed so far fetched to me when I first saw them as a child. I am looking forward to a world where genetic information, microbiome information, and various other biomarker measurements are useful and understandable to experts and non-experts alike. Some days this future seems very far off, but other days I feel like I can see it coming. I appreciate that the conference gave me a peek into some new aspects of this future!