Scientists have developed a tool to accurately measure lung function through a simple phone call.
According to Shwetak Patel, Washington Research Foundation Endowed Professor of Computer Science & Engineering and Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington, SpiroCall is designed to run on all types of phones, using the standard phone channel instead of over the Internet in order to reach people in developing countries who suffer from asthma, cystic fibrosis or other chronic lung diseases.
"We wanted to be able to measure lung function on any type of phone you might encounter around the world — smartphones, dumb phones, landlines, pay phones," Patel said. "With SpiroCall, you can call a 1-800 number, blow into the phone and use the telephone network to test your lung function."
Lead researcher Mayank Goel says patients should take a deep breath and exhale as hard and fast as possible. The phone then detects sound and pressure, and sends the data to a central server, which uses machine-learning algorithms to become standard measures of lung function.
"People have to manage chronic lung diseases for their entire lives," Goel said. "So there's a real need to have a device that allows patients to accurately monitor their condition at home without having to constantly visit a medical clinic, which in some places requires hours or days of travel."
The project started out in 2012 when it was only a smartphone app called SpiroSmart.
However, since then, the team has taken data from over 4,000 patients in the U.S., India and Bangladesh.
Even though the audio quality is not of the highest quality on a call, the system combines multiple regression algorithms to provide reliable estimates, showing results within 6.2 percent compared with results of clinical spirometers used in hospitals and doctors' offices. This means SpiroCall meets the standards of the medical community.
"The variation in phone/mic quality definitely affects the performance of the system, but we perform regular diagnostic tests," Goel told TechCrunch.
The team's medical device has yet to be approved and cleared by the FDA before it can be delivered worldwide.
"Our current clinical trials are laying the groundwork for our FDA 510(k) clearance. We expect to start the formal data collection for the clearance later this year," Goel said. "There is a significant amount of commercial interest around the technology in terms of licensing as well as collaboration."