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Interview With Kinsa: A Smart Thermometer With The Potential To Create A Real-Time Map Of Human Health

There are new medical innovations being discovered every day, but the ones that have the real power to positively impact health outcomes are the ones that integrate technological intelligence into a user-friendly product. 

Medical startup Kinsa is one such innovator. With their smart thermometer technology, which is the first FDA-cleared app-enabled thermometer, Kinsa has upgraded the standard thermometer into a highly intelligent, connected device. Kinsa devices allow their customers to better be able to keep an eye on illnesses from beginning to end, monitoring fever symptoms and alerting users when fever and symptoms warrant closer monitoring or a visit to the doctor. On a larger scale, the connectivity feature of these smart thermometers can provide entire communities with helpful insights such as common illnesses that may be circulating in a local area or within a user’s school.

We sat down with the Kinsa team to dive deeper into their story and learn more about how they can improve individual and community health outcomes. Check out our interview below!


What is the story or inspiration behind the creation of Kinsa? What are some of your driving philosophies? 

Kinsa was founded with a singular mission: to create a real-time map of human health in order to track – and help stop – the spread of contagious illness. Infectious diseases are the leading cause of death among children globally, and respiratory infections alone account for 3.9 million deaths per year. Most of these deaths are preventable or treatable.

In addition, the spread of infectious and antibiotic-resistant disease results in massive costs in direct health care (est. $20B annually in the U.S. alone) along with even bigger costs from lost productivity (est. $35B annually in the U.S. alone). These heavy human and financial costs can be significantly reduced if these illnesses are caught sooner, treated earlier and isolated better. 

Current methods to detect and respond to spreading illness are inadequate. Even in the U.S., where we spend billions of dollars on bio-surveillance, existing data collection methods are flawed; we do not have an accurate picture of where, when, and how quickly illness is spreading. Many organizations attempt to map the spread of illness using social media or internet search query mining, but these approaches suffer from low signal-to-noise ratios and less-than-ideal geo-location precision, as evidenced by the discontinuation of Google Flu Trends in 2015. By contrast, CDC, WHO and others use confirmed lab tests to report medically accurate data on the rate of spread of flu and other diseases. Data must be certified and tested, and are often limited to sources such as trusted labs. As a result, illness reports typically lag the rate of disease spread by at least 2-5 weeks, and are generally incomplete (many contagious individuals never enter the healthcare system and even more are prospectively treated without a confirmatory lab test). As a result, we lack timely, accurate data on the spread of contagious illness. And communication is one-way; by the time we analyze the data and can offer illness support based on trends, the patient has left the clinic.

"We reimagined the first device a parent turns to in order to confirm illness – the thermometer – and created a version that does far more than take a temperature."

At Kinsa, we've taken a different and complementary approach, which addresses the limitations of both provider-initiated reporting and social media/search query methods. We sought a way to communicate with someone who has just fallen ill while collecting medically accurate data. In particular, we sought to communicate with parents – since children are primary spreaders of many contagious illnesses. To do this, we reimagined the first device a parent turns to in order to confirm illness (well before they go online or to the doctor) – the thermometer – and created a version that does far more than take a temperature. By “connecting” it, we’ve made it smarter – providing more value to the user while simultaneously allowing Kinsa to capture early indicators of illness to help us map aggregate health trends.

Can you tell me more about the different products you offer? What are the features that make them unique, and how can they be used differently? 

Kinsa offers 3 different smart thermometer options, all with the unique Kinsa value of being much more than traditional thermometers. While they may look similar to ordinary thermometers, Kinsa devices do much more than simply give you a number readout. Rather, Kinsa guides users through illness to recovery and beyond by answering the questions a thermometer can’t:

  • What’s going around?

  • What should I do?

  • How can I keep my family healthy? 

Currently, our products come in 3 different form factors:

  • Smart Stick – First-ever FDA-cleared smartphone enabled thermometer created. The Kinsa Smart Stick plugs directly into your smartphone to give an accurate reading in 10 seconds. Users can track health history for their entire family, and can receive guidance if fever and symptoms are cause for concern. Parents love Kinsa’s ease of use and children love Kinsa’s “bubble game” on screen during a temperature reading. Powered by the smartphone, the Smart Stick requires no batteries and will never die.

  • Smart Ear - Working in just 1 second, the Kinsa Smart Thermometer lets parents know whether their child is ill, and helps guide them on next steps if fever and symptoms are cause for concern. Working wirelessly with iOS & Android devices, Kinsa automatically remembers important details including fever history, symptoms and medications to share with a doctor, spouse or caregiver.

  • Sesame Street Smart Ear - Kinsa’s Sesame Street Smart Ear thermometer is the first-ever connected product licensed by Sesame Street. Crafted in Elmo’s likeness to make illness easier on both parent & child, the instant ear thermometer also incorporates words of encouragement from Elmo himself, telling a child he’s “sorry they aren’t feeling well” and to “feel better soon.” Working wirelessly with Android & iOS devices, the Sesame Street Smart Ear thermometer automatically remembers important details including fever history, symptoms and medications to share with a doctor, spouse or caregiver.

With each of Kinsa’s products, parents can also join a private group for their child’s school to see the “health weather” of the community and know what symptoms and illnesses are circulating in real-time.

How can the Kinsa Smart Thermometer be used to improve health within families, schools, and communities? How does this device prevent the spread of diseases?

Building on our belief that knowledge about “what’s going around” empowers families, schools and communities with the information they need to stay healthy, Kinsa leverages the smartphone’s processing and geo-location capabilities to show users what common symptoms and illnesses are circulating their area. With this anonymous & aggregated real-time information, Kinsa is working to change the way people care for their families, how physicians treat patients, the way public health systems respond to an emerging epidemic, and finally, the way governments allocate resources to track the spread of disease.

In public health, as in medicine, early detection leads to early response. In school settings in particular, knowing “what’s going around” can be the difference between keeping a contagious child home and infecting an entire classroom, or the difference between getting your child treatment immediately versus waiting until it’s too late.

"Kinsa leverages the smartphone’s processing and geo-location capabilities to show users what common symptoms and illnesses are circulating their area."

We have already started to see early detection leading to earlier response for Kinsa users. A recent story we received was sent in by a mother (Katy) with an immunosuppressed son battling cancer (Vincent) who noticed that her other son (Luke) was showing mild signs of illness. The mom checked her son’s school group in the Kinsa app & noticed Influenza A  and Strep Throat were going around the school. Despite his relatively mild symptoms, Katy immediately took Luke to the doctor and requested a test for flu and strep. Her doctor, hesitant at first, agreed to the tests when Katy showed him her son’s school group on the Kinsa app.

Luke’s test results came back positive for both strep and Influenza A, and Katy was able to get him on medication sooner, & perhaps more importantly, was able to separate Vincent away from his brother so he did not get an illness which, for him, could be life-threatening.

Does this device allow better communication between patients and physicians? How so?

Yes, we believe it does! Frequently, giving a patient an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan requires a reliable record of information on how an illness progressed: how high did a fever get, were there other symptoms, how long did the episode last? For many of us, particularly busy parents, remembering these details is difficult if not impractical. Kinsa’s time-stamped illness history, complete with the ability to track not only fever and symptoms, but any medications and notes as well, takes the guessing out of a clinic visit and gives physicians the accurate information they need to make a better informed diagnosis.
We’ve heard from numerous users that by tracking their illness with Kinsa, their physicians were able to accurately diagnose ailments such as PFAPA Syndrome (Periodic Fevers), rejection of a lung transplant, and Influenza, to name a few.   

Does your product actively collect data, and if so what kind of data is collected? Who has access to this data and how can they use it? 

Kinsa collects anonymous, geo-located indicators of illness, including temperature, symptoms & diagnoses, to accomplish our broader mission to help track and stop the spread of contagious illness. All data points collected are aggregated and no personally identifiable information is ever collected. Individuals have access to their own health data, including their health history, while members of school groups (in the Kinsa app) have access to anonymous and aggregated data on common symptoms going around the school. In the future, our goal is to offer this data to society at large in the form of a “health map” that would show the common symptoms & illnesses circulating the area. 

With this ability to visualize illness trends in real-time, hospital systems can scale up emergency room staff; public health agencies can mobilize their teams of scientists and researchers to isolate specific pathogens and search for a cure; physicians can be equipped with contextual information to enable better diagnoses; and individuals themselves will have the knowledge to respond more appropriately & keep their families healthier. 

What is Kinsa’s approach to design and user experience of your products?

To achieve our mission, we need as many Kinsa users as possible - in other words, we need to focus on consumer adoption. We believe that to be a successful consumer company, our products must delight users from their first touch. This belief underlies every element of the design of our physical thermometry products – from the materials used in our thermometers, to the packaging in which it arrives, and every element in between.
When designing user experience, we put ourselves in the shoes of our target customer: a busy, concerned parent caring for a sick child while his or her other siblings vie for mom or dad’s attention. To succeed in this environment, our products & app need to be intuitive, easy to use, valuable and most importantly, comforting and reassuring to the user.

With this scenario in mind, we’ve created our products to have the least amount of friction to use: Our ear thermometers have only one button; our stick thermometer requires no batteries and will never die when one needs it most.

What is your vision for the future of Kinsa?

"In the future, our goal is to offer this data to society at large in the form of a “health map” that would show the common symptoms & illnesses circulating the area."

We will continue to press forward in our mission to help stop the spread of disease. We envision a day when families all over the world have access to a low-cost, connected Kinsa thermometer and we are able to track and stop the spread of annual illnesses and epidemics.


Visit the Kinsa website here.


Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.