AI-powered stethoscope can spot pneumonia without a doctor

Re-inventing the stethoscope: AI-powered tool can spot pneumonia by listening to how a patient BREATHES (and it’s 87% accurate)

  • The stethoscope was designed by scientists from Johns Hopkins University, US
  • It uses noise-filtering technology so it can be used in any environment
  • And its software is based on a database of around 1,500 people’s lung sounds 
  • Developers hope the device could save lives by detecting pneumonia early 
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A re-invented stethoscope with artificial intelligence could diagnose pneumonia by listening to someone’s lungs.

Scientists have invented the gadget to be able to spot warning signs in any environment without the need for a doctor’s trained ear.

Using noise-filtering technology and an understanding of what lungs with pneumonia sound like, the stethoscope could save lives, its developers say.

The Feelix and FeelixPro stethoscopes will be launched this year and scientists say it correctly identifies the disease almost nine times out of 10.


Scientists at the Maryland-based Sonavi Labs have invented an AI stethoscope which used data on around 1,500 patients to learn to recognise signs of pneumonia

Developed by experts from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, the stethoscope is believed to be 87 per cent accurate at diagnosing the lung disease.

Pneumonia, which causes the lungs to fill with fluid, kills almost one million children under the age of five globally each year.

Around 220,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with pneumonia annually, along with a million Americans.

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The developers – a company called Sonavi Labs – say their stethoscope has three major differences from other equipment on the market.

‘Our digital stethoscope is less sensitive to precise placement on the body, it incorporates active noise control so that it can work in almost any environment, and it is able to detect abnormal lung sounds,’ Professor James West told Digital Trends.

The lungs of patients with pneumonia may make bubbling, crackling or rattling sounds when they breathe, and their breaths may be shallower than usual.

WHAT IS PNEUMONIA?

Pneumonia is a type of chest infection that affects the tiny air sacs in the lungs. 

The condition causes these sacs to be become inflammed and fill with fluid, making it harder to breathe.

Pneumonia is caused by bacteria or viruses, with the most common being Streptococcus pneumoniae. 

It affects between five and 11 out of every 1,000 adults every year in the UK. 

Anyone can suffer from pneumonia, however, at-risk groups include:

  • Babies and young children
  • People over 65
  • Those with long-term heart, lung or kidney disease
  • People with cancer, particularly those having chemotherapy
  • Smokers
  • Those on drugs that suppress their immune systems

Antibiotics or mechanical ventilator use in hospitals also raise the risk. 

Symptoms include

  • Coughing up mucus
  • Fever
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue

In severe cases, sufferers may cough up blood, vomit or have a rapid heart rate.

Treatment is usually antibiotics, which may need to be given intravenously in hospital in severe cases.

Source: British Lung Foundation 

Other conditions like asthma, pleurisy and tumours can change how the lungs sound, and doctors have to make sure the stethoscope is in exactly the right place.

The AI stethoscope is believed to get rid of this room for error – it can remove other sounds, including background noise a patient’s heartbeat, meaning placement doesn’t have to be exact and it can be used in busy environments.

It does this by having an external microphone recording other sounds, then adapts to remove those from the stethoscope’s recording. 

And its artificial intelligence was trained using a database of recordings from around 1,500 patients in Africa and Asia.

This means the technology can accurately distinguish the sounds of pneumonia without the need for a doctor.

It sends readings to the doctor’s computer which can clearly distinguish between the breathing of a normal lung and one with pneumonia. 

Sonavi Labs’ CEO, Ellington West said: ‘Our goals are to save lives, to enable earlier detection of respiratory challenges, to reduce the number of emergency room visits and hospital admissions, and to improve the workflow of hospitals while giving patients the ability to engage with their providers from the comforts of their home.’  

Among children, pneumonia is most common in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, but experts warn pollution in the West could be making it a bigger risk here.

A Unicef UK report today warned a third of British children are breathing in air so polluted it risks damaging their health.

The children’s charity said the UK is in the midst of a ‘toxic air crisis’ that risks booming into a full-scale public health emergency if it is not tackled.

But parents are woefully ignorant of this ‘invisible threat’ and the damage it is doing to children’s health, its report said.

At least 4.5million children in the UK – 30 per cent of all under-18s – are growing up in areas with unsafe levels of particulate matter in the air, which increases their risk of developing pneumonia, asthma, and stunted growth in their lungs.

‘This is a fundamental threat to their right to grow up in a clean, healthy environment,’ Unicef’s report warned. 

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