Scanadu Scout Hands-on: A Tricorder in Every Pocket

Look out, Dr. McCoy! By the end of next year, consumers will be able to pick up the Scanadu SCOUT, a small $150 palm-sized device, which will scan your vitals in less than a minute, and give you a diagnosis on your smartphone. 

The SCOUT was invented by Walter de Brouwer, an entrepreneur who, among other things, established the European branch of One Laptop Per Child, Nicholas Negroponte’s ambitious project to deliver affordable notebooks to children in Africa. 

Inspired by a trip to a hospital–where his son was hooked up to machines that proved as confusing to nurses as himself–as well as the pervasiveness of cellphones in third-world countries, Brouwer set out to design a medical device that was portable and easy to use. Brouwer’s “tricorder” had to meet three criteria: It must complete a scan in 10 seconds, it must do so in a non-invasive manner (meaning, no needles), and it has to be inexpensive. 

The Scanadu SCOUT, whose look was designed by Yves Behar, is small and sleek. About an inch square, the top and bottom are white, with small ridges, and the black sides bevel in slightly. It’s a very clean, and feels like it belongs in a medical setting. The front has a small infrared scanner, and the back a microUSB port for recharging the device. In the center of the top and bottom are two more sensors. 

Simply hold the SCOUT to your temple, and in ten seconds (it took about a minute during our demo), it will record a number of your vitals: Heart rate, electrical heart activity, pulse transit time, temperature, heart rate variability, and blood oxygenation. It then transmits this information to an iOS app via Bluetooth. 

Scanadu has two more tools in the pipeline, ScanaFlo and ScanaFlu. The first, which will be sold over the counter, is a urinalysis  test for pregnancy complications, preeclampisa, gestational diabetes, kidney failure and urinary tract infections.

After you micturate on the ScanaFlo, little strips embedded in the disposable will change color; simply take a photo using your phone, and Scanaflu’s app will interpret the colored strips and render a diagnosis. ScanaFlu works much the same way, but uses saliva instead of urine. The company says that it will test for Strep A, Influenza A, Influenza B, Adenovirus and RSV. 

The SCOUT, as well as the ScanaFlo and ScanaFlu, should be out by the end of 2013, depending on FDA approval. The SCOUT will cost $150, and the ScanaFlo and Scanaflu will be sold in disposable packs. 

Brouwer sees his devices helping not just hypochondriacs, but foreign aid workers all over the globe who need to diagnose illnesses quickly, cheaply, and safely. He’s also looking to develop more comprehensive tests.

The ultimate aim, Brouwer says, is to make data collection and analysis much simpler, so that physicians can devote more of their time to actually treating patients. After all, they’re doctors, not accountants.

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  1. Dave Says:

    We already have conventional wireless pulse oximeters in every hospital, which is all this is. Nothing “diagnostic” about it.

  2. Doug Says:

    Not long ago the pulse oximeter was an exotic tool limited to the hospital. A device like this might help patients figure out whether they need to see a doctor, potentially saving lives as well as money and helping to relieve the strain on our medical system. Of course, this is only the beginning of the “Creative destruction of medicine” described by Dr. Eric Topol.

  3. Chuck Juhl Says:

    FDA regulations explicitly prohibit marketing an investigational device prior to FDA approval for commercial distribution:

    21 C.F.R. Sec. 812.7 Prohibition of promotion and other practices.
    A sponsor, investigator, or any person acting for or on behalf of a sponsor or investigator shall not:

    (a) Promote or test market an investigational device, until after FDA has approved the device for commercial distribution.

    “It’s sold as a research device for investigational use. Everyone who buys it is essentially a researcher in that project,” De Brouwer told MobiHealthNews in May of 2013 at the beginning of the Indiegogo campaign. Key words there: SOLD, EVERYONE, and BUYS. Walter De Brouwer himself characterized the Indiegogo campaign as selling the Scout as an “investigational device” to Indiegogo buyers, which is explicitly prohibited by the FDA.

    That’s all somewhat academic at this point as Scanadu is more than 6 months past the date it promised to deliver those “investigational” devices to Indiegogo purchasers. The excuses coming from Scanadu for the delays have been pretty lame, and are frankly in direct contradiction to De Brouwer’s claims in May of last year when he stated in MobileHealthNews that “The device has seen 18 iterations, the industrial design is ready, the algorithms are in place, the manufacturer is secured, the FDA audit trails are operational. For Scanadu this is just the end of the beginning. We did Indiegogo when we were over-ready.” That sure seems like one big fat fib right about now.

    The only thing lamer than De Brouwer’s excuses is the failure of media outlets like this one to follow up on the hype they helped build for this debacle.

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