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Visible wants to track your illness, more than your fitness

There’s no shortage of health and fitness trackers — the list of suppliers is as long as my arm, ranging from the mainstream (Apple, Google, Samsung, Fitbit, Withings) to the more esoteric and specialized (Polar, Suunto, Garmin). The assumption underpinning each of those devices is that you’re more or less healthy, and wanting to get in better shape.

But what if you’re not healthy? Visible is lending its voice to the healthcare tech revolution — providing a much-needed spotlight on the underserved, all while offering hope to millions wrestling with persistent chronic illnesses, including long COVID.

The company has emerged as a game changer in healthcare tech, bringing to the landscape an innovative “illness tracker” that is helping users better manage their physical discomforts — a departure from the fitness-focused mentality that dominates most existing health wearables in the market. The company’s software, which comes in the form of iOS and Android apps, is harnessing the power of health technology and advanced data analytics to address the needs of severe cases of chronic illness — a market that Harry Leeming, co-founder and CEO at Visible, describes as “wildly underserved.”

Visible didn’t initially set out to become a diagnostic tool for long COVID or other chronic illnesses. Rather, its journey began with the simple aim of streamlining patient communication during the chaos of the COVID eruption. However, Leeming soon recognized the urgency of the long COVID problem and turned to the idea of building the “illness tracker.”

“People are eager to move the conversation on from COVID, but the truth is chronic fatigue was a problem long before long COVID hit the headlines. Chronic Lyme Disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome — there was already a huge community of patients that were underserved. Long COVID is the strongest ‘why now’ slide — and it has shone a light on all these other conditions,” says Leeming in an interview with TechCrunch.

Trying it out

As someone who suffers from long COVID myself, I tried its solution out as I was at CES in Las Vegas earlier this year. The company uses a Polar continuous heart monitor band to keep track of heartrate throughout the day, and heart-rate variability, using that as a proxy for how well your body is doing.

From that, it gives you a “morning check in” rating from 1-5. If your rating is awful, the app suggests to maybe take it a bit easy that day. If you’ve got yourself a 5, you’re ready to run a marathon. Or, at least, stroll to the coffee shop and eat donuts. The app doesn’t judge — but it does give you a general idea of how your day might be looking from an energy point of view, so you can plan accordingly.

On the busy show floors of CES, getting a thumbs up from the app was helpful. And when, on one of the days, it gave me a “erm, maybe chill today,” I chose to ignore it. Unfortunately, the app was right, and by 8 p.m. I was a husk of a soul. Damn you, science.

Still, being able to get advance warning of how well I’m doing on a given day is a powerful tool — as many other long COVID sufferers have found with the Visible app

What’s next?

“COVID has certainly the strongest ‘why now’ effect. It has shone a light on this massive, overlooked market of chronic conditions,” Leeming said. “We aim to take fitness, wellness and illness into account with our tracker. At first, in November 2022, we launched in a free app that just uses your smartphone data. We’ve had over 45,000 people join the platform, through organic growth. Then we rolled out the premium subscription. Today, we have around 2,000 people that are using that.”

While the application’s primary intent revolves around COVID monitoring, it has become clear that it is having an impact on far more than just those battling the pandemic virus. The company suggests that people with post-concussion syndrome, post-surgery fatigue and cancer recovery are also gaining benefit from Visible’s data-centric approach. The broad appeal and multifaceted usefulness of the tracker are an encouraging step forward for those who have been marginalized by a “one-size-fits-all” model in traditional healthcare.

No longer a mere risk assessment tool, Visible’s “illness tracker” has evolved into a personal assistant for health maintenance and a symbol of empowerment for patients. Leeming suggests the tool is still very much in its embryonic stages and acknowledges that it only loosely guides decisions for now. But he has high hopes that it could facilitate better outcomes.

In a tech landscape that constantly demands more, Visible trusts users to listen to their own bodies, simply providing them with the data to make more informed decisions. It’s a refreshing idea — a tech company that doesn’t overpromise and underdeliver, but sets realistic expectations for its evolving product. Even at this initial stage, it certainly seems that Visible is starting to illuminate a new way forward for chronic illness sufferers.

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