Mobile healthcare, telemedicine, telehealth, BYOD

App + Smartphone = Diagnostic Tool?

Imagine a doctor pulling out a smartphone, asking a patient to cough into it, and then being able to diagnose a respiratory condition like pneumonia.

An app that identifies different types of respiratory distress simply by having someone cough into a smartphone is now facing FDA evaluation, and will soon be part of a global study targeting pneumonia in the developing world.

ResApp, launched in 2014 in Perth, Australia, was borne out of studies at that country’s University of Queensland, in which machine-learning algorithms were developed to measure sound and diagnose the severity of a cough without the need for any additional hardware. The app can now identify asthma, pneumonia, bronchiolitis, croup and COPD with 97 percent accuracy, according to Brian Leedman, the company’s co-founder and executive director.

ResApp is one of a number of innovative software platforms designed to turn the smartphone into a diagnostic device, capable to being used by the clinician in a clinic, the consumer looking for a quick diagnosis at home or the doctor in a distant, remote country. These types of mHealth platforms aim to speed up the time between diagnosis and treatment, improving clinical outcomes and helping providers manage large populations and curb outbreaks or epidemics.

“Respiratory issues are the single largest (healthcare condition) for which you need in-person medical care,” Leedman said during a visit to Las Vegas for the HIMSS16 conference and exhibition earlier this month. “Right now you need to be in front of a doctor to be diagnosed. This would change that.”

With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ResApp was tested in a multi-site pediatric study in Australia, and will soon be the focus of two studies on adult populations. Leedman and Dr. Tony Keating, the company’s CEO and managing director, are now looking for U.S. healthcare providers to partner in a larger study.

As HIMSS16 came to a close, the company announced a partnership with an unidentified humanitarian organization to field-test the app in developing countries on pneumonia, which kills more than 950,000 children each year, many in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

“We are very excited to collaborate with a global leader in the provision of health services throughout the developing world,” Keating said in a press release. “Not only will we perform a field trial to gather additional clinical evidence, but we will also develop an in-depth understanding of the difficult environments in which their personnel operate and refine our application to suit.”

“There’s a massive market out there for this type of (diagnostic device),” said Leedman of ResApp, which is currently designed strictly for clinical use, rather than the commercial market. “All you need is a smartphone. You don’t need any more devices and you’re not plugging anything in.”

Leedman said the software used by ResApp identifies a signature in a cough and matches that against a database of breathing sounds from known clinical diagnoses. This enables a clinician in any environment, equipped with a smartphone, to diagnose a respiratory condition on the spot and more quickly develop a care plan.

When it reaches the U.S., ResApp will join a lively mHealth market focused on diagnostic devices for respiratory distress. Among the companies in the space are Propeller Health, which combines an inhaler with a high-tech sensor; AsthmaMD, which pairs a peak flow meter and smartphone app; and iSonea, whose device measures and charts a user’s wheeze rate.

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