New Tool to Diagnose Respiratory Illnesses

Health professionals treating people with respiratory illnesses may soon have a new diagnostic tool: a smart phone. Australian researchers are testing an app that uses the sound of a patient’s cough to identify different respiratory conditions and gauge how severe they are.

Just like a doctor with a stethoscope, the app “listens” for certain signature sounds in the cough that indicate respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, asthma, and pneumonia. Since the app can be used over long distances, it will enable doctors to consult over the phone or online, allowing ill patients to remain at home and avoid contagion.

The app relies on machine learning algorithms developed at the University of Queensland, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is being marketed by ResApp, an Australian medical technology company.

ResApp reports promising results so far. The University of Queensland recently finished a clinical study involving more than three hundred children at the Joondalup Health Campus and Princess Margaret Hospital in Perth, Australia. ResApp reports that the app could detect many common childhood respiratory conditions, such as croup and upper respiratory tract infections, with greater than 95% accuracy. It can determine who has a respiratory illness and who does not. Once an illness is detected, it can identify which specific condition a patient has.

A study with adult patients in Western Australia began in December 2015, with preliminary results expected in the first half of 2016. It will involve four hundred adults who come to emergency departments complaining of respiratory problems. According to Dr. Tony Keating of ResApp, the study will target adults of all ages, including older people who are more prone to conditions such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

There’s no word yet on when the app will be available to the medical community.