BUSINESS

[Health-tech Korea] ‘Fever Coach’ eyes data-driven flu forecasting

By Sohn Ji-young
  • Published : Dec 5, 2017 - 16:52
  • Updated : Dec 5, 2017 - 17:16
The Korea Herald is publishing a series of articles highlighting South Korea’s promising startups in the emerging sectors of digital health care and next-generation medical devices. This is the 14th installment. — Ed.

For those new to parenting, an infant with a high fever can be extremely startling.

Not knowing what to do, many turn to the web to seek advice on how to manage their child’s fever. An online search can yield long lists of medical advice, tips and opinions -- some credible and some completely groundless.

Eyeing potential in a service to fix such a quagmire, a South Korean doctor-turned-entrepreneur set out to create a simple, yet useful, mobile app to provide moms and dads with accurate and credible guidelines on what to do when their child has a fever.

“Seeing the proliferation of baseless advice, such as ‘put wet socks on your baby when he has a fever,’ on the web, I wanted to create a service that provides medially correct advice to parents,” said Mobile Doctor’s co-founder and CEO Shin Jae-won in a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul.

Mobile Doctor’s co-founder and CEO Shin Jae-won (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

The startup was co-founded in 2011 by Shin -- who holds a degree in family medicine from Seoul National University’s College of Medicine -- and Oh Nam-soo, an IT engineer trained in management information systems.

After attempts at a number of other digital health services, the tech startup launched to success its flagship app Fever Coach in 2015, targeting primarily parents with children under the age of 5.

By inputting a child’s body temperature, symptoms and vaccination history, the app offers information on whether the child has a fever, the type and amount of fever-reducing medication to use, as well as the necessity of a hospital visit depending on the child’s temperature and how it changes over time.

Based on the data, the app can potentially predict the type of illness the child may have contracted, including the flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, laryngitis or adenovirus infections, the startup said.

“We’ve programmed our algorithms to ensure that parents can manage their child’s fever. Though there are cases where the child must be taken to the hospital, more often it can be treated simply with a proper dosage of medication at home,” Shin said.

Around 70 to 80 percent of children who arrive at an emergency room at night for a fever do not need urgent care, but just the proper medication, according to the 45-year-old family medicine doctor.

Going beyond the app, Mobile Doctor has now teamed up with three local hardware firms that have developed patch-type wearable thermometers.

The reusable patches -- priced at 15,000-30,000 won ($14-$28) -- connect to the mobile app, enabling parents to monitor their child’s condition at all times and receive alerts if needed. Together, the app and wearable device offer added convenience to users, Shin said.

A view of the `Fever Coach` mobile app (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Looking ahead, Mobile Doctor says it has a vision beyond the app business: creating a viable digital health care service that can be useful in the real world. Fever Coach is just a tool for getting there.

With the fever-related clinical data it has collected through its mobile app, the startup is looking to develop an artificial intelligence-based machine learning algorithm that analyzes a person’s symptoms to automatically discern whether he or she has the flu.

“The patient-generated data collected via the ‘Fever Coach’ app is different from those kept by hospitals. While hospitals only have the preclinical data involving for fevers, we have both preclinical and post-clinical data,” Shin said.

“By leveraging this unique end-to-end medical big data set, we can effectively predict what kind of illness a person has by analyzing the early symptoms.”

Mobile Doctor has already collected evidence of being able to predict infectious disease trends using patient-generated big data collected via the Fever Coach app, days earlier than the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings, which show that infectious diseases can be well monitored by analyzing patient-generated data collected through a mobile app, will be published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in early 2018.

“There is a lot of talk about digital health care, but not many businesses that have created viable services that are useful to patients and doctors. The key will be to create a digital health service that is useful in the real world,” Shin said.

To expand its data pool and service, Mobile Doctor is looking to markets beyond Korea. It launched beta versions of Fever Coach in China, Japan and the US last year, and is looking at ways to raise the app’s appeal in the respective markets.

For instance, the Chinese version of the app includes algorithms that make fever management recommendations based on Chinese traditional medicine, which many locals depend on. In the US, the Korean startup is considering launching the app alongside the thermometer patch, it said.

By Sohn Ji-young (jys@heraldcorp.com)