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Smart thermometers are proving valuable in battling colds and Covid. They can prescribe better advertising outcomes, too.

Smart thermometers are proving valuable in battling colds and Covid. They can prescribe better advertising outcomes, too.

Illustration by Nick DeSantis / Getty / The Current

Kinsa Insights’ real-time health data provides an early warning system for cold, flu, and Covid diagnoses

Kinsa is a public health company on a mission to stop illness spreading in our communities. You might say that its chief weapon in this battle against sickness is data. In 2013, the company launched the first FDA-cleared smart thermometer, which transforms the ordinary household device by connecting it to an app allowing users to upload their temperature reading, monitor their health, and get immediate advice on care and treatment. In other words, they’re able to reach symptomatic patients before anybody else.

In a time of pandemic, this type of real-time health data is proving critical when it comes to forecasting fever spikes and creating what the company calls a HealthWeather map. The company CEO, Inder Singh, has described Kinsa as a “global early warning system for illness.” And while its data-driven insights have the potential to impact public health outcomes, its data is also proving valuable to illness- and hygiene-related brands and retailers.

“We’re able to tell brands and retailers where and when illness is spreading in real-time,” Matthew Bolden, a product marketing strategist at Kinsa, tells The Current. Bolden points out that the company's insights, created from its aggregated fever and symptom data, allow brands and retailers to target shoppers in their exact moment of need. On the question of privacy, the company emphasizes that Kinsa user-level data is never shared, but always anonymized and aggregated to create zip-code level insights, or inferences on what percent of a population is ill and with which symptoms.

To hear Andy Yost, the CMO of Kinsa, tell it, the company’s insights-driven solution has both community and business benefits. “The product has a lot of different applications to help brands not only optimize their [digital] media spend, but to help with supply-chain management, and demand forecasting to help reach communities where illness is on the rise.”

For a brand like Reckitt’s Mucinex, a cough, cold and flu medicine, the insights gleaned from Kinsa’s early-warning data helped Reckitt accurately predict demand for its product. Forecasting seasonal illness is already a tough enough proposition for cold and flu brands, but in the context of the pandemic, things became even more unpredictable. But because of Kinsa’s illness insights, the brand was able to target its ads and in-store merchandise to areas where symptoms were predicted to spike. 

“Our partnership with Kinsa helps us understand where, when and how much demand there will be for our products, allowing us to better collaborate with our retail partners,” says Brian Nussbaum, the planning director at Reckitt Health.

It’s not just brands who can attest to the value of Kinsa’s early warning network of smart thermometers. Health experts across the U.S. have praised the concept of a leading indicator during the time of a pandemic. And large cities like Philadelphia and New York City work with Kinsa to understand where and when illness is starting and spreading within their communities. The company says it can accurately predict clusters of Covid-19 diagnoses up to three weeks in advance, and flu 12–20 weeks in advance. Whether or not those symptoms identified in the app are flu or Covid-related are ultimately self-reported by users in the app.

For this reason, scale is critical. The more thermometers out in the marketplace, the more granular the data, the better its health mapping capabilities. While Kinsa thermometers are available for retail, the company also runs a school health program called FLUency, an initiative to curb the spread of illness by providing free thermometers to parents in schools across the country, in partnership with Lysol. Altogether these initiatives help drive Kinsa’s mission of early detection and early response to keep communities safe and healthy.