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New mHealth Study to Test the Smartphone’s Diagnostic Capabilities

Three health systems will soon be launching a study to test the accuracy of an mHealth platform that analyzes a child's cough for pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.

By Eric Wicklund

- In what could be a pivotal test of the diagnostic capabilities of a smartphone, three prominent U.S. health systems are ready to conduct clinical trials on an app that analyzes a user’s cough.

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic and Massachusetts General Hospital have received institutional review board (IRB) approval for the SMARTCOUGH-C study, which will look to determine whether ResApp Health Limited’s ResAppDx app can diagnose pneumonia and other common respiratory diseases in children.

ResApp was launched in 2014 in Perth, Australia, out of studies conducted at the University of Queensland by co-founder Brian Leedman and other researchers. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it was tested on pediatric patients in Australia and judge to be 97 percent successful in identifying asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, croup and COPD.

Leedman sees the app as a tool in helping diagnose children’s coughs at home, enabling doctors to decide on a care plan before the child is brought to a hospital or clinic.

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  • “Respiratory issues are the single largest (healthcare condition) for which you need in-person medical care,” he said during an interview at the HIMSS16 conference and exhibition. “Right now you need to be in front of a doctor to be diagnosed. This would change that.”

    Leedman and Tony Keating, MD, the company’s CEO and managing director, say the app can also be a tool in population health projects in developing countries, where smartphones are popular, healthcare is infrequent and respiratory issues like pneumonia are far more deadly, especially in children. The company is now working with an unnamed global humanitarian organization to field-test the app in these countries, where the World Health Organization estimates 950,000 children die each year from pneumonia.

    While the mHealth ecosystem is filled with wearables, including patches, wristbands, smartwatches, sensor-embedded clothing and even eyewear and jewelry, designed to track biometric data, that information isn’t particularly valuable unless it can be used to diagnose healthcare issues. And while healthcare providers want to use this data, many have questioned whether these devices can capture data reliably and accurately.

    Smartphones, meanwhile, offer researchers and healthcare providers a much greater opportunity to reach underserved populations than wearables, simply because so many more people own a phone than a smartwatch or doctor-supplied device.

    And while companies like ResApp, ResMed and Propeller Health target respiratory diseases with apps and analytics platforms that can analyze breathing sounds, others are experimenting with smartphone attachments that can analyze blood, saliva, urine or even DNA, or building “smartphone microscopes” that can analyze tissue samples in the field.

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