The University of Washington has been harbouring some forward thinking engineers lately. The amount of invention coming out of the university has been astounding recently. Now, researchers at the university have come up with something that could save lives all over the world. The computer science and engineering and electrical engineering students have developed what they call SpiroCall‘. A tool that measures lung function over a standard telephone call. 

In the abstract of a paper they will be publishing this May, the researchers say:

Lung impairments account for roughly 10% of global deaths. The severity of these diseases is usually measured and managed using spirometers, devices that measure patient lung infection. Home spirometry is gaining acceptance in the medical community due to its ability to detect pulmonary exacerbations and improve outcomes of chronic lung ailments. 

We have developed a smartphone app, SpiroSmart, that allows measurement of common lung infection measures using the phone’s microphone. 

Recently, we have developed a call-in service to allow patients to perform spirometry on any phone — using the standard telephony voice channel to transmit sound of the spirometry effort. 

The issue with spirometry over the phone would obviously be accuracy. There is no possible way that someone breathing into a telephone would produce the correct measurements, right?

Allegedly, the team’s SpiroCall – which utilizes any telephone microphone – is within 6.2 percent of current clinical spirometers that are used in the medical industry today. That is enough accuracy to meet the medical community’s standards according to the University of Washington. 

EIT Stock Image Credit: University of Washington

Shwetak Patel, a Professor of Computer Science & Engineering and Electrical Engineering at UW said: “We wanted to be able to measure lung function on any type of phone you might encounter around the world — smartphones, dumb phones, landlines, payphones. With SpiroCall, you can call a 1-800 number, blow into the phone and use the telephone network to test your lung function.” 

The 1-800 number would be useful for people who do not have funds to call and can call for free, meaning that the product also benefits the low-income communities of the world. “People have to manage chronic lung diseases for their entire lives. So there’s a real need to have a device that allows patients to accurately monitor their condition at home without having to constantly visit a medical clinic, which in some places requires hours or days,” said Mayank Goel, a UW engineering doctoral student.

The team also reportedly printed a 3-D printed whistle that would make up for the bad call quality on some telephones and give the researchers a clearer idea of a patient’s lung function. And it would help patients who are unable to utilize their vocal chords to produce a loud breathing sound effect that is needed in spirometry. 




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