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Measuring Lung Function Over the Phone with SpiroCall

May 16, 2016

Testing SpiroSmart in clinics in India and Bangladesh.

Testing SpiroCall in a clinic in Bangladesh.

For individuals who manage chronic lung disease, it’s vitally important to be able to easily obtain accurate data to measure their lung function. Now, patients can do just that by simply picking up any phone anywhere in the world — thanks to a tool called SpiroCall.

Developed by a team of researchers lead by Shwetak Patel, Washington Research Foundation Endowed Professor of Computer Science & Engineering and Electrical Engineering, SpiroCall is a new health sensing tool that can accurately measure lung function over a simple phone call.  Rather than traveling to a clinic to use a doctor’s spirometer, all a patient has to do with SpiroCall is dial a toll-free number and breathe into the phone.

SpiroCall uses a phone’s built-in microphone and standard audio channels, so it works with any phone from smartphone to landline — but there were challenges.  “We had to account for the fact that the sound quality you get over a phone line is worse,” said co-author Elliot Saba, electrical engineering doctoral student. “You can imagine how listening to someone play a song over a phone line would sound compared to listening to it on your music app — there’s a similar difference with a spirometry test.”

To compensate for less-than-ideal sound quality, the team was able to combine multiple algorithms and other critical factors to provide readings that resulted in reliable lung function estimates despite degraded audio technology.

SpiroCall has immediate applications in rural communities and developing countries around the world, where medical clinics may be more difficult to access.

The research team will be presenting their paper at the upcoming Association for Computing Machinery’s CHI2016 conference this month.

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