Health Tech, MedCity Influencers, Diagnostics

How vocal biomarkers are becoming a necessary tool for remote patient monitoring

With the information contained in a simple 30-second voice sample, providers can help patients get ahead of future health issues and prescribe or adjust treatment plans as needed.

Remote patient monitoring—using electronic devices to collect and record health and medical data in one location and having that data reviewed by a provider in another location—has become much more mainstream. RPM enables aging patients, individuals with chronic diseases and others to better manage their health remotely.

The Covid-19 pandemic has enhanced the use of RPM technology. But the real boom is still coming.

By 2025, Insider Intelligence estimates there will be 70.6 million U.S. RPM users. The global RPM systems market is projected to reach $1.7 billion by 2027, per Research and Markets, and 43% of respondents in a recent survey believed that RPM adoption will be on par with in-patient monitoring in five years.

Heart rate monitors, glucose monitors, smart watches, wearables and more—all now technologically that’s sophisticated enough to examine and analyze key biometrics—are increasingly empowering individuals to take a proactive approach to their own health.

Their success is rooted in simplicity, requiring little to no effort to use except for wearing the device. But the functionality is also undeniable, as they’re giving providers more data to help inform and track the effectiveness of treatment plans and other health recommendations.

Still, for all the advancement in this arena, the use of vocal biomarkers for early health detection hasn’t been on the same level—until now. Here’s why vocal biomarkers are a huge boost and, quite frankly, necessary for RPM.

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The simplicity of vocal biomarkers

Wearables are simple. Vocal biomarkers for health can be even easier and more persistent—because we use our voices all day, every day.

No band. No ring. No need to strap anything on. In the near future, the technology will be embedded directly into the devices you use every day. Instead of thinking about health monitoring, it just happens in the background by using your voice as you go about your daily activities.

Best of all, there will be no need to purchase new devices. Instead, you will effortlessly engage with the objective and private health insight that is continually updated for you. And that health insight, as it turns out, is fairly extensive.

A new window into your health

Much like your resting heart rate or blood oxygen level can provide key insights into your health and well-being, so too can your voice.

Changes in an individual’s physiology can cause subtle changes in the voice that are undetectable by the naked ear. Recent advances in audio signal processing and machine learning (ML) technology have made it possible to detect these changes and have linked them with symptoms of respiratory disease, depression and other health conditions. With the information contained in a simple 30-second voice sample, providers can help patients get ahead of future health issues and prescribe or adjust treatment plans as needed.

Consider that 12% to 18% of adults over the age of 60 will develop mild cognitive impairment, and 10% to 20% of individuals with mild cognitive impairment will develop dementia-related illnesses like Alzheimer’s from the age of 65. What if there was a way to remotely monitor this patient population for early signs of cognitive decline? There just may be.

Hearing loss is the most common chronic health condition affecting older adults. It is also a risk factor for dementia. Research is now being conducted using hearing aids to collect voice samples that can be analyzed for measurable aspects of speech affected by mild cognitive impairment. Ultimately, identifying these changes could enable early detection of debilitating and life-threatening diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s.

The benefits of vocal biomarkers extend beyond serving as an early warning system. With chronic or mental health conditions, for instance, providers can remotely monitor the status and progress of their patients between appointments, cross-referencing the objective data obtained through voice samples with notes or tests taken during any appointment. Patients, meanwhile, have a low effort method of gaining a window into their health that better equips them to seek help when needed and keeps them engaged in their care.

But it’s not just the health systems, payers, providers and pharmaceutical companies that would see the benefits of increased vocal biometric monitoring.

The greater universal impact of vocal biomarkers 

Voice biomarkers are a principal biomarker. They’re ubiquitous and arguably the least invasive. Anyone with a smartphone, a health app or a wearable can take advantage of this technology. This can pay dividends across multiple industries and transform companies across sectors into healthcare companies.

Take the automobile industry, for example. Cars already feature sophisticated technology, including audio. However, as early as 2026, auto manufacturers will be required to install monitoring systems in new cars to stop intoxicated drivers. Systems using vocal biomarker technology can do just that. When deployed with other biomarkers and driving data, they could detect a driver’s impairment level—whether from alcohol intoxication or even exhaustion—and safely pull a vehicle over or shut it down to prevent a dangerous, even deadly driving incident.

Similar safety measures could be used by the entire transportation industry or by manufacturing or construction companies that utilize heavy machinery. Vocal biomarkers could be used to determine a worker’s alertness level, turning off the equipment if the operator appears overly tired.

Vocal biomarkers are a potential game-changer for the gaming space as well. Through a simple, short voice sample, gamers can be informed that they might be tilting, indicating that it might be time to step away from the action for a bit.

The benefits of using vocal biomarkers across a wide variety of industries are endless—and they may lead to cost savings as well.

Combating the rising cost of healthcare 

It’s been proven that early detection of any health condition—especially mental health—leads to better outcomes for the patient. But there’s also the financial factor to consider.

Healthcare costs have been rising for years, and U.S. employers believe their group plan premiums will increase between 4.7% and 5.2%, on average, in 2022.

One of the major drivers behind growing healthcare costs is that diseases aren’t typically caught early. According to a recent McMillan Research Report, comorbid patients—individuals suffering from more than one illness, typically a mental health-related condition and a physical health-related condition—cost healthcare systems up to six times as much as people who suffer from a physical chronic condition alone.

Vocal biomarkers, as an early detector for potential mental and chronic health issues, can lessen that financial burden. By discovering trending health insights earlier, people can be activated to seek information or even treatment earlier, saving them—and the health system—greater healthcare costs in the future.

Take a proactive approach to healthcare

How are you feeling?

Think about what your response to that question might be. Your answer might say one thing, but the subtle changes in your voice could tell a different story. That early health detection and monitoring could mean the difference between proactively addressing potential health issues and holding off until a situation becomes more serious.

As more individuals take a proactive approach with their healthcare, RPM technology will become further ingrained in their everyday lives. The ability to easily collect and analyze key pieces of health-related data in a personalized way, well ahead of a health problem, will spark a desire to take advantage of other early detection and prevention routes. Because of their simplicity, effortlessness and effectiveness, vocal biomarkers will be in high demand.

It wasn’t long ago that vocal biomarkers couldn’t be processed on a grand scale. Now, that’s changed. Voice is a core component in the growing ecosystem of digital biomarkers—and RPM will be better for it.

Photo credit: iNueng, Getty Images

David Liu is the chief executive officer of Sonde Health. He is a business leader who has successfully launched, led and scaled companies and products in the consumer internet, education and healthcare technology industries.

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