Scouting your Health with Scanadu

A while ago, I posted about the XPrize being offered for the development of a Tricorder-like health-tracking device. In the last few weeks, one promising entrant, the Scanadu Scout, has raised $1.3 million through Indiegogo.

The Scanadu Scout is a small, handheld, disc-shaped device that when placed against your forehead is able to measure your pulse, temperature, oximetry, heart rate variability, pulse wave transit time, stress and even perform an ECG. It connects wireless with a smartphone which is able to track your data over time.

Pulse wave what?

Now if your eyes glazed over as you read that list of variables, you’re not alone. What exactly do these measurements mean and will the average person be able to comprehend all but the simplest of them? With a little research, here’s what I found.

Pulse oximetry measures the level of oxygen in a person’s blood and is generally used during operations, emergency and intensive care. However, it can also be used to detect medical conditions such as pneumonia, anemia, lung cancer and heart failure.

Pulse wave transit time provides a continuous reading for blood pressure. Easy enough.

Heart rate variability is a measure of how much the beat to beat interval of your heart rate varies. This is a good thing, and in fact, reduced heart rate variability is the thing to watch out for. It can be associated with diabetic neuropathy, heart failure, susceptibility to SIDS. It has also been related to increased stress levels, emotional anxiety and PTSD, says Wikipedia.

A Picture of Health or TMI?

Great, so now you can tell if you’re stressed out! Or rather, are you going to start stressing out about diabetic neuropathy and heart failure? Even with trackers as straightforward as the Fitbit, it’s a complex task trying to derive insight from the data. How are users to parse and understand what the Scanadu Scout will tell them?

On the other hand, having a picture of your general health can be vital. As a child growing up in Dubai, there were many times when a doctor’s visit culminated in a blood test. This was a first step to diagnosing non-obvious illnesses.

The test provides some insight into whether an illness is serious, but more importantly, the collective blood reports provide a narrative picture of your health.

On moving to the US, I was shocked when a coworker went through a year of constant flu-like illness without being offered a single blood test. When he finally got one, they found that his white blood cell counts were through the roof, and he was diagnosed with leukemia. A simple blood test early on could have put this friend on a path to recovery much earlier.

Understanding the data

So I certainly see the value of having access to such information, but I’m also eager to see how Scanadu handles educating their users on what the information actually means for them. We’ve all gone through the experience of looking up a symptom on the internet to find a horrifying list of diseases we might have.  A thoughtful approach will be essential to  provide users insight that is useful without causing undue stress. And at the same time, users will have to consider whether they can handle tracking their health without turning into hypochondriacs!

What do you think? Is ignorance bliss? Or would you rather get a heads up from one of these new devices? Let me know in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Scouting your Health with Scanadu”

  1. Great post Shimona!
    Having done a lot of health tracking myself I have found that sometimes you dont know what you are looking for until you start putting the data together. Without tracking some metrics, small shifts and variations from day to day can go unnoticed, so when you can go back to a tool like this and compare data over months, you might find correlations you never expected to see!
    I would definitely be interested in a product like xanadu to add to the data I already track. I dont think I am a hypochondriac, I just know from experience that “you” are the best expert on “you”. It can be a slippery slope into paranoia if the data is not put into perspective.

    I’ll be in SF for the Quantified Self Conference in October:
    Scanadu is a sponsor!

    1. Thanks for your comments, Sue. You’re right, I totally agree that “you” are the best expert on “you”. With the fleeting minutes we actually get to spend talking to the doctor, it’s getting harder to communicate the whole story of your health thus far. To add to it, they spend more of their attention fighting their new-fangled tablets and software.

      I think Scanadu is exciting too. I think it will change the face of healthcare to have regular people more in charge of their information. And in addition to you being able to track it over months, the ability to aggregrate information over a population about symptoms, drug correlations etc, will be very valuable to all.

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