Digital Health Should Have a Larger Voice in COVID-19 Detection

Have a voice? Have a smartphone? That’s all that may be needed to screen vocal biomarkers, a non-invasive, democratic way to track disease symptoms

Gil Bashe
Gil Bashe
Mar 9 · 7 min read
Photo Credit: RichVintage

Happy anniversary! (Not!)

As we head into the COVID-19 lockdown anniversary — a non-celebration marking one year separated from family, friends, and workplace community — one thing is clear. A full year into a pandemic that’s killed more than 500,000 Americans and put a pause on the world economy, we are still struggling with shortages of accurate, high-quality, cost-effective screen options. Yet this is perhaps the single biggest key to recovery.

Stay Calm and Scream On

COVID-19 is testing the resolve and courage of governments. What should have been a common-sense response to the pandemic has turned out to be shockingly chaotic. Now, with Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Montana, and Iowa lifting restrictions and casting a blind eye toward the reality of sickness and risk, all of us need to remain on guard. While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued new guidance that people who are fully vaccinated can enjoy small indoor social exchanges unmasked, we all must remain vigilant. With the voice of science quashed and digital and racial divides starkly apparent, apolitical health groups such as the American Heart Association have rushed forward to warn citizens to take heed as COVID-19 will continue to kill.

Voice as an Emerging Digital Health Science

Have a voice? Have a smartphone? That’s all that may be needed to screen vocal biomarkers, a non-invasive, democratic way to track disease symptoms.

Follow Vocal Biomarker Science

More and more, researchers look to vocal biomarkers to develop accurate, affordable, accessible, and consumer-friendly screens, which can be done anytime and give live-time analysis. This type of modality could address the public health challenge that asymptomatic people may unknowingly spread infection, even if vaccinated. MIT researchers reported in July 2020 that asymptomatic people differ from healthy individuals in how they cough. While not apparent to the human ear, these differences can be picked up by AI when compared to the vocal biomarkers of healthy individuals.

Europe Takes the Digital Health Lead — Again

Today, there are no digital vocal biomarker technologies FDA-approved for broad use. However, in Europe, which once again outpaces the US in use of and access to digital health, these technologies are already making a difference. Countries like Germany are in the vanguard, reimbursing physicians for prescribing digital health therapies and technologies. Vocal biomarker digital devices have secured the prized Conformitè Europëenne (CE) mark for use within the European Economic Area (EEA).

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