Respiratory conditions is one of the most common diagnoses made by doctors and include a wide range of diseases and causes. For example, diseases caused by inflammation include asthma, cystic fibrosis and COPD, and bacterial or viral infections can range from a self-limited common cold to life-threatening pneumonia. Cough and breathing sounds carry vital information that help diagnose these diseases, or if further tests are needed to identify cases of for example pulmonary embolism and lung cancer. Typically, doctors use stethoscopes to listen to the lungs; however, the sound can be significantly compromised traveling through the chest musculature.
The Australian startup ResApp Health is developing digital health solutions to assist doctors and empower patients to detect and manage respiratory disease. The technology, originally developed by Udantha Abeyratne at the University of Queensland, is based on a machine learning algorithm that uses sound alone to diagnose and measure the severity of respiratory conditions. ResApp has transformed this technology into a platform that is delivered through a smartphone app.
The algorithm has been validated in a clinical study through funding by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which demonstrated 96 percent accuracy for the diagnosis of pneumonia and asthma. The latest data from a pediatric clinical study reinforce the earlier results showing a diagnostic success rate of more than 90 percent in lower respiratory tract diseases, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. The data also showed that the technology detected lower respiratory diseases in 80 percent of patients who were initially cleared by doctors using stethoscopes, only to be diagnosed later after additional clinical testing.
The technology is applicable in a huge variety of settings. We are seeing a tremendous growth in the telehealth industry, where patients gain convenience and access to high quality care, and offer healthcare providers increased productivity and flexibility. And since ResApp does not require additional hardware, telehealth providers can immediately roll-out the diagnostic test to all their members. Second, it is estimated that 700 million ambulatory care visits globally are caused by respiratory disease. Latest studies favor ResApp over doctors using stethoscopes, and cost significantly less than x-rays and follow-up consultations needed for diagnose pneumonia. Providing accurate results faster enable physicians to initiate appropriate therapy immediately, improving health outcomes.
However, maybe most importantly, ResApp provide an opportunity to deliver a powerful diagnostic tool directly to consumers. We should always look to develop simpler, cheaper and better tools that increase access to healthcare, and this technology is only a simple download away. This also give the startup a unique opportunity to work with humanitarian organizations in order to make it accessible to people most in need in developing countries. Pneumonia is the leading cause of death among children under the age of 5, and 99% of those death occur in the developing world. Accurate diagnosis is key in preventing these deaths, and ResApp is a low-cost, simple, and innovative solution that could help save millions of lives.
But the increased access also highlight some ethical questions that need to be addressed. Will giving such a powerful tool directly to consumers provide more anxiety and stress than good? Will we see people with a common cold sit and cough into their smartphone because they are afraid of having life-threatening diseases? If that is the case, then it will most likely lower healthcare efficiency, ultimately increasing overall costs.
In addition, as with all digital solution, it will provide large amounts of data that on one hand can give new insights into respiratory diseases, its occurrence, spread and effectiveness of treatment options. However, even with permission from users, there are still potential privacy and security threats that continuously need to be addressed.
The company will meet with the US Food and Drug Administration to determine the regulatory and clinical hurdles they will need to clear in order to commercialize the app. They also aim to launch a US clinical study later this year.