The algorithm diagnoses the condition from six sentences per day
Voice technology can now detect early signs of heart problems in heart patients, weeks before they are even aware of any symptoms.
All they need to do is check in on a smartphone for 45 seconds a day. Then a super sensitive algorithm “listens” for problems.
The technology, developed by Israeli company Cordio Medical, is designed for patients with congestive heart failure, when fluid builds up in the heart and pumps it inefficiently.
They will already have been diagnosed with a chronic illness and will be taking medication to relieve the pressure on their heart.
But they won’t be aware of the excess fluid buildup in their heart and lungs until it’s too late, and they’re already suffering the symptoms of a relapse.
Cordio’s voice app, called HearO, can detect tiny changes up to 18 days before they start to feel bad, according to recent tests on patients in Israel.
This gives their doctors the option 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 company CEO Tamir Tal.
“The word contains a lot of personal information about us. When you talk to your mom, one sentence is all it takes to let her know how you feel.
“We use speech to give the doctor something he can objectively use to determine a patient’s true medical condition.”
A buildup of fluid in the lungs is the best sign that a patient has undiagnosed heart problems, but measuring it is something that has eluded modern medical science until now.
It does not appear on any test or scan. Attempts to track by measuring a patient’s pulse, respiration, and weight generate too many false positives.
High-tech wearable devices have had some success, but are too reliant on patient compliance, Tal says.
And monitors surgically inserted into the heart provide accurate information, but are invasive, expensive and unpopular.
But getting a patient to recite six sentences a day into their smartphone is simple, effective and accurate. This daily voice file is enough for the algorithm to know if something is wrong.
Our lungs push air through the larynx and are where the whole speech process begins, so any irregularities will affect how we speak, even if we can’t 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 the 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. An example in English is “Emma bought a good cup of tea”, but the system supports half a dozen languages and can easily be adapted to others.
Professor Ilan Shallom, who worked at AudioCodes, one of the largest speech processing companies in the world, developed the real-time speech and voice analysis that detects early fluid buildup.
His work allows HearO to listen to sound variations in the vocal tract that are far too subtle for the human ear to distinguish.
Siri and Alexa analyze and understand human language, but HearO is more sophisticated voice technology.
Patients record a baseline voice sample when they are healthy, and the algorithm compares this with 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 happened, based on this daily voice sample.
It was able to establish a correct diagnosis in 82% of cases, compared to only 10 to 20% by monitoring a patient’s weight.
HearO is for patients who would have died 20 years ago of a heart attack or other heart disease but are routinely saved today with minimally invasive techniques. However, their hearts have been traumatized and are not functioning as they should.
With a healthy heart, the blood stays in a closed-loop system. But if the heart is working at reduced capacity, then fluids – plasma, water and blood – can start to build up in the body and eventually fill the lungs.
It usually takes three weeks to a month before the patient begins to experience symptoms. By then it is too late and they may already be very seriously ill.
Even if the patient was in the hospital, the best MRI machines in the world can’t detect or image the fluid, Tal says.
“Therefore the reason why there is no gold standard in heart failure. No one knows when someone is deteriorating only the caring doctor, the clinical examination with their condition.
“There is currently no exam that can tell you what is going on. Whatever, another blood test, not an imaging device, absolutely nothing.
“People don’t like to use medical devices designed to be used at home. They are primarily designed for clinical efficiency rather than user happiness. But people are very happy to use their iPhone or Android.
HearO will undergo two patient trials in Israel next year and will be marketed in early 2023 in Spain, the UK and Germany.
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