AI-based voiceprint screener for COVID-19 nets European approval

From taste and smell to muscle aches and “COVID toes,” the coronavirus affects the body in a variety of ways—including small changes in a person’s voice, subtle to the ear but clear enough to spot on a computer, according to Vocalis Health.

Using artificial intelligence software to analyze a multitude of voice recordings, Vocalis has secured a CE mark for the use of its digital COVID-19 screening programs in Europe.

Run off a smartphone, the user records themselves counting up from 50 to 70 while the program analyzes the quality of their voice and searches it for signs associated with the disease. Though not a diagnostic itself, Vocalis believes it could be a useful tool to screen large populations of people and point those at the highest risk of infection toward the clinic. 

"PCR testing is being used to screen for COVID-19, which is an extremely expensive, resource-intensive and time-consuming approach," said Shady Hassan, M.D., co-founder, chief operating and medical officer of Vocalis, which was formed by the combination of Israel-based AI startups Beyond Verbal and Healthymize in 2019.

RELATED: The quest for a COVID-19 digital warning system taps smartwatches, rings and more

"Instead of misusing PCR testing for screening, utilizing a highly scalable screening tool like VocalisCheck can fill a significant gap in the current approach to COVID screening, with the ability to effectively funnel those with high risk of infection to the appropriate diagnostic test," Hassan said. 

Vocalis also announced the results of a clinical study conducted with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai to test its screening tool, collecting recordings from over 2,000 speakers of English, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati. Results from a set of 288 participants showed an accuracy of 81.2%, compared to about 66% with a digital symptom checker alone.

"These new results, combined with our recent CE-mark approval, demonstrate our commercial readiness to deploy the VocalisCheck screening tool to help businesses, governments, universities and others safely return to work, school, healthcare and leisure while lightening the burden on health systems," CEO Tal Wenderow said.

Vocalis also said it launched a collaboration with the Mayo Clinic late last year to develop voice-screening systems for pulmonary hypertension.