Courtney Allan


The new smartphone app that has the ability to diagnose respiratory diseases

The new smartphone app that has the ability to diagnose respiratory diseases

A new smartphone app that was developed by University of Queensland researchers has the ability to analyse a person’s cough. This could help diagnose respiratory disorders quickly and easily in patients who lack access to doctors.

UQ biomedical engineer Associate Professor Udantha Abeyratne and his team have developed the diagnostic technology that uses smartphones to instantly identify common respiratory diseases.

These include asthma, croup, pneumonia, lower respiratory tract disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and bronchiolitis.

Dr Abeyratne said that respiratory disease was the third leading cause of death, which means that the potential global health and economic impact of this technology is phenomenal.

“Coughs can be described as wet or dry, brassy or raspy, ringing or barking; they can whistle, whoop or wheeze; but experts cannot always agree on the description or how to use cough sounds for diagnosis,” Dr Abeyratne said.

“Our approach is to introduce signal processing, and machine classification and learning technologies to extract useful diagnostic characteristics from coughs, removing the subjective elements for characterising them.

“We believe the technology can lead to earlier diagnosis and better patient outcomes throughout the world, including in remote locations with limited access to doctors.”

A clinical study on childhood respiratory diseases found that the technology has an accuracy between 81 and 97 percent.

Corresponding author, Paediatrician Dr Paul Porter from Joondalup Health Campus in Western Australia has said that it could be difficult to differentiate between respiratory disorders in children. This is the case for even experienced doctors in modern hospital facilities.

“This study demonstrates how new technology, mathematical concepts, machine learning and clinical medicine can be successfully combined to produce completely new diagnostic tests using the expertise of several disciplines,” Dr Porter said.

How the technology was developed

The technology was developed by UQ researchers using trained algorithms to recognise features of coughs which are characteristic of five different respiratory diseases.

The technology also allows users to report other noticeable systems to ensure that the diagnosis was as accurate as possible.

The researchers the categorised the coughs of 585 children aged between 29 days and 12 years.

The accuracy of the analyser was determined by comparing its diagnosis to one that was reached by a panel of paediatricians that had reviewed hospital charts and conducted all available clinical investigations.