Docs, don’t ignore mHealth

In March of this year, a startup called Scanadu launched a crowd-funding campaign with hopes of raising $100,000. As of this writing, their campaign has raised over $1.4 million, which is the most successful campaign in Indiegogo's history.


The Star Trek Tricorder

Scanadu will use the funds for the production of the Scanadu Scout, a device about the size of a double-stuffed Oreo cookie that can measure heart rate, skin/core body temperature, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, blood pressure, ECG, and emotional stress. According to the company, all of the above will be automatically sent to your smartphone from the device via Bluetooth LE.  





A couple of weeks ago, Jae Won Joh, an ER-physician-in-training, offered some advice for healthtech startups. Dr. Joh encouraged startups to meet his "insanely high" threshold for product quality. After all, Dr. Joh explained, when healthcare products don't work, "people die."

He saved his coup de grâce for the Scanadu Scout.

"Clinically, I couldn’t care less, and I don’t think the vast majority of patients should either. Anyone can get their heart rate in 15 seconds for free by putting two fingers on their wrist/neck while looking at a clock and doing some basic math. They can get their temperature at the same time with a $10 thermometer from Walgreens. If they don’t have a lung condition and they feel ok, their oxygen saturation is almost guaranteed to be 98-100%."



Disruption is a widely-used term, but a poorly understood concept. Disruption often occurs when a product does not meet the insanely high standards of the most demanding customers. Instead, disruption flies under the radar of the high-end incumbents at a fraction of their price and features. It might even seem like a toy by comparison.


If you had asked a Wall Street firm in the mid 90s to switch out their high-end Sun machines for Linux machines running on x86 processors, you would have been laughed out of the room. But Linux methodically marched up the performance curve while maintaining its low cost. Fast forward 15 years and Wall Street now runs on Linux and a humbled Sun has been forced into the arms of Oracle. 


Is the Scout Relevant?

It isn't entirely surprising that Dr. Joh "couldn't care less" about the Scout. My wife is an MD and I can appreciate the need to focus on clinical relevance and patient safety. But the reality is that patients are increasingly taking control of their health outside of the confines of clinics and hospitals. And - yes - someone could conceivably buy a bag of diagnostic tools from the drug store and manually log their biometric values. But, by eliminating the hassle of this manual process, the Scout encourages regular people to become engaged in their health. And in contrast to equipment in an operating room, I can't imagine that patients will die if the app locks up.


Patient engagement has been described as the "blockbuster drug of the century" and just might be the biggest opportunity in healthcare today. Let's take blood pressure management. 30% of American adults have hypertension and another 30% are pre-hypertensive. A fifth don't know that they have it. Blood pressure drives 55 million doctor visits and results in $131 billion of direct medical expenses. High blood pressure contributes to the death of about 350,000 Americans annually. The Scout will be relevant if it simply helps patients manage their blood pressure more easily.  


Start Now

When I see an mHealth innovation like the Scanadu Scout, I marvel at the pace of health innovation over the past few years. I consider how it might be improved and combined with other technologies to form a wave of disruption that ushers in a lower-cost care model over time. But we don't have to wait until these technologies are on their 10th release to start engaging patients. People want tools that make it easier to stay engaged in their health.  The best providers realize this and will help shape the new value-based healthcare world. They will also profit from the change.