Can your voice tell people you are sick?

Can your voice tell people you are sick?

Imagine talking into an app that records your voice and being told what disease you may have.

Researchers are studying whether a person’s voice characteristics can be analysed by machines to diagnose disease.

Beyond Verbal is an Israeli company that analyses people’s voices for emotions‚ and its patented software can tell a person or a listener what mood they are in. The software looks for 90 different markers in the voice that can show loneliness‚ anger and even being in love.

Call centres use Beyond Verbal technology to hear when customers on the line are angry or may be in the right mood to be ready to be offered a product for sale.

But the company now has preliminary evidence that diseases may be detected in the voice‚ even while not audible to the human ear.

“It’s the very early stages of the idea. We are still checking it‚” said the director of Beyond Verbal Health Research‚ Dr Daniella Perry.

Beyond Verbal teamed up with the Mayo Clinic‚ a medical research and hospital group in the US‚ and analysed 88 English-speaking patients who had coronary artery disease and had angiograms‚ which showed their arteries were blocked.

It also analysed these patients’ voices‚ those of nine people undergoing other tests and of 21 people who were healthy. Beyond Verbal recently announced it had found a distinguishing factor in the voice‚ only identifiable by its software‚ which showed when a person was 19 times more likely to have heart disease.

“It’s a very early finding but very significant‚” said Bianca Meger‚ showcasing the research at the Med in Israel conference.

The same study is now being conducted in China to see if the results are replicable with Mandarin speakers. The aim is to help doctors better decide who needs an angiogram.

In future‚ an app may be able to detect something in a person’s voice and warn them to see a doctor‚ who may then schedule an angiogram to detect blocked arteries.

“Even a one-day early warning of a heart attack would be good‚” Meger said. However‚ the software would never replace the current diagnosis method for blocked arteries‚ which is an angiogram‚ when an X-ray image is taken of blood vessels.

Using the voice to detect risk or likelihood of disease raises privacy concerns that people’s health could be monitored or screened without their knowledge.

Employers could use the software during interviews to see if candidates are healthy or not. Perry acknowledges this is a reality.

“As technology develops‚ there are more and more privacy concerns‚” she says.

-Katharine Child’s trip to the technology conference Med in Israel was sponsored by the Israel Export Institute.