The algorithm diagnoses the situation from six sentences per day
Sound technology can now detect early signs of heart problems in heart patients, weeks before they become aware of any symptoms.
All they need to do is record themselves on a smartphone for 45 seconds a day. Then a super-sensitive algorithm “listens” for the problems.
Technology developed by Israel Cordeo MedicalDesigned for patients with congestive heart failure, when fluid builds up inside the heart and leads to inefficient pumping.
They will already be diagnosed with the chronic condition and will take medication to reduce the pressure on their hearts.
But they won’t be aware of the buildup of excess fluid in the heart and lungs until it’s too late, and they’re already experiencing symptoms of a relapse.
Cordeo’s audio app, called HearO, can make subtle changes up to 18 days before they start to feel unwell, according to recent tests on patients in Israel.
This gives their doctors the opportunity to double the dose of diuretics — drugs that lower blood pressure — for a few days and avoid the trauma of a hospital stay.
“We are probably one of the first companies in the world to use speech to detect clinical conditions in humans,” says Tamir Tal, CEO of the company.
“Speech carries a lot of personal information about us. When you talk to your mother, just one sentence is enough to let you know how she feels.
“We use speech to give the doctor something they can use objectively to determine a patient’s actual medical condition.”
Fluid buildup in the lungs is the best sign that a patient has undiagnosed, but measurable heart problems that have eluded modern medical science, until now.
It does not appear on any test or scan. Attempts to track it by measuring the patient’s pulse, breathing, and weight result in a lot of false positives.
High-tech wearables have had some success, but they depend too much on patient compliance, says Tal.
Monitors surgically inserted into the heart provide accurate information but are invasive, expensive, and unpopular.
But having a patient read six sentences a day on their smartphone is easy, efficient and accurate. This daily audio file is enough for the algorithm to know if something is wrong.
Our lungs push air through the larynx and it’s where the entire speech process begins, so any irregularities there will affect the way we speak, even if we can’t actually hear it.
“What we’re doing is called low-level speech processing, looking at very, very small changes in the lungs,” says Tal.
“It’s like a sensor in a car’s engine that turns on a light on the dashboard if it starts to fill with excess fluid.”
Patients recite their sentences daily. One example in English is “Emma bought a nice cup of tea,” but the system caters for six languages and can easily be adapted for more than that.
Professor Ilan Shalom, who used to work for AudioCodes, one of the largest speech processing companies in the world, developed real-time speech and audio analysis that detects premature accumulation of fluids.
His work allows HearO to hear for differences in sound from the vocal tract that are too subtle for the human ear to distinguish.
Siri and Alexa both analyze and understand human language but HearO is a more advanced type of voice technology.
Patients record a baseline audio sample when they are healthy, and the algorithm compares that to the daily audio file they send from their device.
A recent study of 180 patients at 10 medical centers in Israel found that the system identified heart failure an average of 18 days before it occurred, based on a daily voice sample.
And he made a correct diagnosis in 82 percent of cases, compared to just 10 to 20 percent by monitoring a patient’s weight.
HearO targets patients who died 20 years ago of a heart attack or other cardiac condition but are routinely rescued today using minimally invasive techniques. However, their heart has suffered a shock, and is not working as it should.
With a healthy heart, blood stays in a closed-loop system. But if the heart is working at reduced capacity, fluids — plasma, water and blood — can start to build up in the body and eventually begin to fill the lungs.
It usually takes anywhere from three weeks to a month before the patient begins to experience symptoms. By then it is too late and they could already be seriously ill.
Even if a patient is in the hospital, Tal says, the best MRI machines in the world can’t detect or visualize fluid.
Hence, the reason why there is no gold standard for heart failure. No one knows when someone is deteriorating except for a physician who is concerned with the clinical examination along with their condition.
“There is currently no test that can tell you this is happening. Never mind, another blood test, not an imaging device, nothing at all.
People do not like to use medical devices that are designed for use at home. They are primarily designed for clinical efficacy, rather than user delight. But people are very happy with their iPhone or Android devices.”
HearO will undergo two patient trials in Israel next year and has approval to be commercialized as early as 2023 in Spain, the United Kingdom and Germany.
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