Illustration credit: A.E. Kieren
De Brouwer is nothing if not ambitious. When asked for a big-picture take on Scanadu’s current plans, he responds, “We want to give seven billion people access to quality healthcare on their smartphones … Scanadu’s mission is to make this the last generation to know so little about its health.”
And yet when one hears the story that prompted De Brouwer to found the company, that overarching ambition takes on an achingly human dimension. “In 2005 my wife and I spent a year in the hospital with our son, who had suffered a severe brain injury,” he recalls. “We were completely in the dark about medicine and felt such a sense of powerlessness.” Rather than lash out or shrink within, De Brouwer went to work. “We began to log the numbers on the machines and teach ourselves what certain patterns meant. Once we understood the data, we felt at ease and were able to have better conversations with the doctors and even help other people in the hospital make better sense of their situations.”
He also found inspiration in, of all places, Star Trek—specifically, the handheld medical Tricorder used by Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy to take basic vital measurements and instantly diagnose medical conditions. “I saw Star Trek not as a TV series but as a business model. For me, the Tricorder was the ultimate device,” he says.
Scanadu’s real-life take on the Tricorder, the Scanadu Scout, has already captured the imagination of health-tech wonks and consumers (who, in 2013, backed it to 1,662% of its initial funding goal) alike. Shaped like a hockey puck, the sensor- packed Scout can measure an individual’s temperature, heart and respiratory rates, oximetry and blood pressure. “This is the first time someone has been able to deliver blood pressure readings without a cuff or SP02 readings without a clip,” De Brouwer says. Some 4,000 Scout users are now participating in a Scripps Translations Science Institute trial. De Brouwer notes that the firm is “keeping in close lockstep with FDA guidelines.”
All of this is to say that De Brouwer’s vision of the future is, well, pretty darn cool. “We’ll see toothbrushes that measure fluoride, remember cavities and notify you of bad breath. Combs will screen follicles, report dandruff density and scan for fungus or lice,” he predicts. “For Scanadu specifically, our tools will help take the fear out of medicine. By giving consumers the power of data and knowledge, we will rewrite the future of our health.”