A Wearable That Listens for Troubling Coughs

CoughAware has been designed to help caregivers of children or elderly patients to respond quickly to impeding asthma or COPD respiratory attacks, and possibly avoid the need for hospitalization.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

"Every third ER patient comes in for reparatory problem, according to data from U.S. and Europe," Schmidt reports. "In the U.S., asthma is the number-one reason children miss school days, and data from a clinic in Denver and one at Boston's Children's [hospital] show that 90 percent of asthma attacks in children are avoidable with an early response."

COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States, following heart disease and cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The device is approximately the height of a U.S. bank note.
Quvium uses statistics from the United Kingdom to propose its product's usefulness in addressing health-care costs. Looking only at children with asthma, people with COPD and the elderly with respiratory risks, it found that those who do a poor job of managing their ailments account for roughly 14 percent, 18 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively, of the total pool of that group. Yet, they account for approximately half of all hospitalizations from that pool. Of those, it cites research showing that 75 percent of these admittances are considered avoidable.

To validate the predictions that the CoughAware device makes, experts at a cough clinic at King's College will compare them with the results of a cough analysis machine that is used there. If the CoughAware draws very similar conclusions to those of the college's machine, the university will approve it for a clinical trial, during which patients will use the CoughAware device for a span of four weeks. If the results of that trial are positive, then Quvium will submit the device for CE certification, which is what the U.K.'s national health system requires for this type of device to be prescribed by physicians.

Schmidt expects Quvium will begin selling CoughAware, through physicians, in the United Kingdom by the end of this year or early 2017. It will cost £240 ($320), which will include the device, the CoughAware service and a one-year cellular subscription. If patients wish to keep using the device after the first year, the only fee they would need to pay is £100 ($133) per annum for continued cellular service.

In the United States, CoughAware will require the Food and Drug Administration's 501K approval for medical devices before physicians could begin prescribing it. Quvium hopes to achieve that approval by the end of next year. Eventually, the company hopes to be able to sell CoughAware as an over-the-counter device in both markets.

Digital sound processing could emerge as a useful tool for managing other diseases as well. "If you talk to a pulmonologist, you'll learn there are like 42 different types of coughs," Beckmann states. "We're training our audio detection [algorithms] on cough detection, but this same kind of algorithm could be used for [recording] heart rates, snoring and other thing."

Plus, Schmidt says, doctors could use recordings of coughing to help diagnose an illness. Currently, the CoughAware device issues an alert only to caregivers, because sending an audio file would consume a significant amount of battery power. However, he adds, when the device is recharging, it could be provisioned to forward sound files to the patient's doctor.

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