Real-time data for a better response to disease outbreaks

Kinsa was founded by MIT alumnus Inder Singh MBA ’06, SM ’07 in 2012, with the mission of collecting information about when and where infectious diseases are spreading in real-time. Today the company is fulfilling that mission along several fronts.

It starts with families. More than 1.5 million of Kinsa’s “smart” thermometers have been sold or given away across the country, including hundreds of thousands to families from low-income school districts. The thermometers link to an app that helps users decide if they should seek medical attention based on age, fever, and symptoms.

At the community level, the data generated by the thermometers are anonymized and aggregated, and can be shared with parents and school officials, helping them understand what illnesses are going around and prevent the spread of disease in classrooms.

By working with over 2,000 schools to date in addition to many businesses, Kinsa has also developed predictive models that can forecast flu seasons each year. In the spring of this year, the company showed it could predict flu spread 12-20 weeks in advance at the city level.

The milestone prepared Kinsa for its most profound scale-up yet. When Covid-19 came to the U.S., the company was able to estimate its spread in real-time by tracking fever levels above what would normally be expected. Now Kinsa is working with health officials in five states and three cities to help contain and control the virus.

“By the time the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control] gets the data, it has been processed, deidentified, and people have entered the health system to see a doctor,” say Singh, who is Kinsa’s CEO as well as its founder. “There’s a huge delay from when someone contracts an illness and when they see a doctor. The current health care system only sees the latter; we see the former.”

Today Kinsa finds itself playing a central role in America’s Covid-19 response. In addition to its local partnerships, the company has become a central information hub for the public, media, and researchers with its Healthweather tool, which maps unusual rates of fevers — among the most common symptom of Covid-19 — to help visualize the prevalence of illness in communities.

Singh says Kinsa’s data complement other methods of containing the virus like testing, contact tracing, and the use of face masks.

Better data for better responses

Singh’s first exposure to MIT came while he was attending the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government as a graduate student.

“I remember I interacted with some MIT undergrads, we brainstormed some social-impact ideas,” Singh recalls. “A week later I got an email from them saying they’d prototyped what we were talking about. I was like, ‘You prototyped what we talked about in a week!?’ I was blown away, and it was an insight into how MIT is such a do-er campus. It was so entrepreneurial. I was like, ‘I...