Kinsa launches a smartphone-connected thermometer to create a real-time health map

If you want a real-time picture of the country’s health, you can check out Google Flu Trends or insights from social media. And if you want a more official perspective, you can turn to the Centers for Disease Control. But getting information that is both real-time and accurate is tricky business.

That’s where Kinsa comes in. Launched Wednesday at the Demo Mobile and TEDMED conferences, the New York-based startup wants to create a real-time picture of the country’s health by using smartphones and simplified digital thermometers.

“Today, I can know what my friend’s dog at for breakfast, but I have so little insight into the health situation around me,” said founder and CEO Inder Singh. “We’re creating… a real-time map of human health [to] keep families and neighborhoods healthy.”

Building on technology developed by entrepreneur and investor Edo Segal and others, Kinsa developed a thermometer that plugs directly into a smartphone’s earphone jack. (Singh said they focused on the thermometer because a fever is often the first sign of illness.) Because it connects with a smartphone, it doesn’t include batteries, processors or an LCD, which means the device is cheaper and lighter than other digital thermometers.

After downloading the Kinsa app, users can see their temperature on the smartphone screen, as well as log other symptoms and share the information with a doctor, family or a private group.

Over time, as the thermometer gains traction, the company’s hope is that it can provide individuals, doctors, public health officials and health companies with better data on where and when illnesses are spreading, as well as inform next steps. For example, it could let individuals and doctors know about possible illnesses in the area. Or, it could enable pharmaceutical companies understand where and when their products might be most in demand.

But even before the company amasses a critical volume of data, early adopters will already be able to use the app to track a child’s symptoms and then share them with the doctor or create a private group to share information and check the health status of others in the group. For example, Singh said, parents could create a group for a child’s class and anonymously view illnesses among classmates.

Users who don’t want to join a private group can consult a map to view the “health weather” in their area, which is a report that combines data from Kinsa with public health data from other sources.  The app also includes features for calling a nurse with one tap and forecasting when you’re likely to be contagious and when you’ll likely recover.

The startup, which has raised $2 million, expects the thermometer to become available later this year, after receiving FDA clearance.  Initially, the company plans to sell the thermometer at a price comparable to other digital thermometers ($15 – $20) but, as penetration grows, they plan to drop the price.

To build buzz around the product, Kinsa also launched an Indiegogo campaign on Wednesday, with a goal of raising $75,000.