Take a deep breath in – the days of a cold stethoscope moving its way across your chest and back could be numbered thanks to a Brisbane medical startup.
ResApp, a University of Queensland spinout company, has developed a digital healthcare solution to assist doctors and empower patients to diagnose and manage respiratory diseases using smartphones.
And it turns out it all starts with the sound of your cough.
The company – founded by Tony Keating and Brian Leedman – will commercialise a technology developed by Associate Professor Udantha Abeyratne based on the premise that coughs and breathing sounds carry vital information on the state of the respiratory tract.
Associate Professor Abeyratne has developed ResApp to diagnose and measure the severity of a wide range of chronic and acute diseases such as pneumonia, asthma, bronchiolitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Brian Leedman, a healthcare company start-up entrepreneur, explains that typically doctors use stethoscopes to listen to the lungs as the first indication of a respiratory problem.
“But the information available from these sounds is compromised as the sound has to first pass through the chest musculature, which muffles some components of respiratory sounds,” he says.
“In contrast, the lungs are directly connected to the atmosphere during respiratory events such as coughs.”
These sounds contain signatures that indicate a specific type of respiratory illness through an instant analysis via an app on a smartphone – and the technology has turned investors’ heads.
To date, over 2,000 patients have been enrolled in a multi-hospital clinical study in Queensland and Western Australia demonstrating accuracy rates in excess of 90% for a wide range of respiratory diseases – all from the sound of a cough! A pivotal study at three major US hospitals is nearing completion and is expected to form the basis on an FDA application for the app’s approval as a device for medical professionals.
ResApp was founded in September 2014 and completed a $4 million capital raise to list on the Australian Stock Exchange in June 2015.
The company then went on to raise $12.5 million at 10 times its initial listing price by April 2016, fuelled by cutting-edge tech and the potential that telehealth has to deliver medical services at scale.
Leedman says the development of high-speed internet and improved mobile networks has led to tremendous growth in the telehealth industry and according to Inc Magazine, it is now the second fastest growing industry in the United States.
He says the benefits of telehealth reach everybody involved in the healthcare system, and ResApp is a perfect example of how it can help diagnose and manage disease, and save lives.
“Patients gain convenience and access to high-quality care, while payers, such as employers and insurance companies, can more effectively mitigate cost pressures,” he says.
“For the healthcare providers who sit between, telehealth offers increased productivity and flexibility.”
That flexibility, ease of use, and rigorous testing and research makes ResApp a powerful ally for medical professionals worldwide.
It could provide clinicians in telehealth settings an instant and accurate diagnosis so patients can be diagnosed (and therefore treated) as soon as they present, and the opportunity for its application in Third World countries is also a game-changer.
ResApp plans to partner with humanitarian organisations that have operations in developing countries and provide the ability to perform a more accurate respiratory diagnosis in circumstances where a stethoscope may well be the only available instrument to the doctor.
Associate Professor Abeyratne’s team has been engaged in the research and development of this technology since 2009 and has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The University of Queensland, UniQuest and ResApp.