Many of us now carry powerful personal computers in our pockets. One result of the smartphone revolution is that we now have ready access to data and the processing power to make it useful. Smartphone apps are even being cleared by the FDA as treatment devices.

One of the pioneers in medical applications for smartphones is the Australian company ResApp. We’ve been covering the company and its products for more than three years as they have used smartphones to diagnose coughs and sleep apnea just by using recorded sound samples. The company recently announced published results for a clinical test in the U.S. of the app’s ability to diagnose respiratory illness in children.

The study included more than 1,200 children who presented with coughs. The results show that the system was able to distinguish between upper respiratory tract disease, lower respiratory tract disease, asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia. Sensitivity rates from 63% for pneumonia to 77% for upper respiratory tract disease. Specificity rates ranged from 60% for bronchitis to 86% for asthma.

These results come on the heels test results from Australia for diagnosing respiratory disease in adults. The test compared the diagnosis results of the app using just recorded sound samples against those reached by experienced clinicians who also had access to other data such as medical imaging, microbiology, and spirometry.

The test included nearly 1,000 subjects, and looked for positive percent agreement (PPA) and negative percent agreement (NPA) with the clinician diagnoses. For lower respiratory tract disease, the results showed 88% PPA and 89% NPA; in other words, a high level of agreement for both patients with and without the condition. Other results were similar: 86% PPA and 87% NPA for pneumonia, 89% PPA and 84% NPA for asthma exacerbations, and 83% PPA and 91% NPA for COPD exacerbations.

There are two main take-aways from these studies. First is the fact that the ResApp technology appears to be effective in diagnosing coughs for both children and adults. On a broader scale, however, this points the way to using ubiquitous technology — smartphones — as a reliable and low-cost method to provide initial diagnosis screening for a variety of diseases and conditions. Ultimately, this could put more power in the hands of consumers so that they could make more informed healthcare decisions about whether or not to seek professional treatment. This could make healthcare more efficient, effective, and lower cost.