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WHPC Finalist Mark Hoffman Talks Temperature Regulation & Innovation Inspiration


Dr. Mark Hoffman, third from right, with members of his team. Photo provided.

When Mark Hoffman, PhD, the director of the Center for Health Insights at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, proposed that the Raiing Medical iThermonitor could be used to study baseline “normal” body temperatures, he believed that he was on to something great.

He wasn’t wrong. After posting his idea to Medstro’s Google Wearables in Healthcare Challenge, Hoffman’s idea rose to the top. Hoffman will be traveling to Boston with nine other finalists to pitch his idea live to a panel of judges at Google’s Cambridge headquarters on April 23. He’s also now the proud owner of 10 Raiing iThermonitors.

This week, we caught up with Hoffman to talk about the inspiration behind his idea, his plans for next steps and why he’s excited to hang out at the Google Cambridge headquarters later this month:

Q: Congratulations on the win, and we can’t wait to see you in Boston! To start this off, can you explain your winning idea in your own words?

My idea is that we each have a personal “normal” temperature. For most of us it is indeed close to 98.6, but for individuals with certain conditions their “normal” temperature may be higher or lower than 98.6 or may fluctuate continuously. Failure to account for this variation can result decisions not to treat or to overprescribe antibiotics. Both risks have significant consequences – an untreated infection can quickly become irreversible and overuse of antibiotics is a major factor in the spread of antibiotic resistant pathogens.

My idea is that a continuous measurement, taken over many days during a time when the person is otherwise symptom free, should provide a verification that their “normal” is different than 98.6. Then, when they do experience illness, their healthcare team can make an informed decision that includes this “precision” information.

Q: Where did the inspiration for this idea come from? 

When I read the categories for the Wearables Challenge, I immediately thought of a family we know with three children who have struggled with temperature regulation and severe pain. I communicate with their mother, who also experiences the same symptoms, about their diagnostic odyssey, which has included autonomic testing and genomic analysis, so I was inspired to do further research into temperature dysautonomia. They still do not have a diagnosis (which has prompted them to found the Rare Undiagnosed Network), and I am haunted by their situation and others who don’t fit textbook medicine.

I’ve spent much of my career focused on genomics, but also believe that Precision Medicine is really about moving away from decisions based on population averages to highly personalized diagnostic and treatment plans that integrate data from multiple sources.  As I reflected on the wearable thermometer, I realized that even a routine vital sign measurement such as temperature has wide personal variation that is not accounted for in standard clinical algorithms. Better understanding of this phenomenon can help improve patient care.

Q: Let’s think big picture. How will your idea change healthcare?

The specific concept has the potential to change how one of the most common medical measurements is captured and utilized. A personal “TempoGram” could become an important part of managing certain categories of patients.  For example, if a patient temperature fluctuates continuously, other methods of detecting and confirming fever should be used.

Q: When it comes to this challenge, our judges are interested in ideas that can actually become clinical pilots. What are your next steps?

I am excited about formalizing a research protocol with Children’s Mercy Hospital (CMH) in Kansas City, seeking IRB approval and working with Raiing on the technical details of implementation. Winning the Grand Prize would help move this project forward by offsetting some of the expenses for UMKC and CMH, including a graduate research assistant and patient recruitment efforts.

Q: Last question – why are you excited to be presenting at Google on April 23?

There are many reasons why I am excited to be presenting at Google. First, I believe in this idea and want to advance this project. As an educator, I am excited to gain first hand knowledge about the “Internet of Things” and the Challenge model of funding innovation. When I return from Boston, I also want to share what I  learn with our students and my colleagues. This will be my first visit to a Google campus and I look forward to seeing how they use design to promote entrepreneurship, collaboration and innovation. I am also happy to see that this is becoming a national and international competition and am honored to be the only finalist representing an institution west of the Appalachians.

Join us at the live pitch off on April 23, 2015. Buy your tickets now – they will sell out!

Jenni Whalen

Jenni Whalen

    Jenni Whalen is the Executive Assistant of Editorial at Upworthy. She was previously MedTech Boston's Managing Editor and has an MS in Journalism from Boston University, as well as a BA in Psychology from Bucknell University. Whalen has written for Greatist, Boston magazine, AZ Central Healthy Living and the New England Journal of Medicine, among other places. She has also worked as a conference planner, ghost writer, researcher and content developer.

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