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An app designed to screen for signs of Parkinson’s disease is being trialled in Victoria in the hope it could help patients in remote areas quickly be referred to a specialist for earlier treatment.
The app, which is not a diagnostic tool, was developed by RMIT University engineers and Australian neurologists.
It records a patient’s voice which is then analysed by artificial intelligence and turned into a report for health professionals.
About 130 people have been part of trials at Goulburn Valley Health and Monash Health in Victoria.
Nicole McConnell, a movement disorder clinical nurse specialist at Goulburn Valley Health, admits she was initially sceptical about the app when she started trialling it with patients.
“I actually think it’s quite great and innovative,” Ms Mcconnell told AAP.
“It was identifying people with speech issues earlier than our ears could detect.
“So it was a lot more sensitive than we initially thought so we could intervene a lot quicker for people that were having speech issues.”
The trial, still in its early stages, has not been registered or sought approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration. The TGA does not comment on products that have not sought approval.
Organisation Fight Parkinson’s estimates about 220,000 Australians are living with the degenerative brain condition.
Ms McConnell has seen patients who lived with the condition undiagnosed for up to eight years and hopes the technology could become a routine part of health assessments in remote GP clinics.
“This particular app is about trying to identify commonalities between other people with Parkinson’s disease, so that it can trigger it to send them to a neurologist,” Ms McConnell said.
Early data published in peer-reviewed journals IEEE Access journal and Computers in Biology and Medicine showed the app could distinguish between patients with Parkinson’s and healthy people.
More research is needed to confirm the findings and explore if it could also help patients with other health concerns such as severe COVID-19.
Lead researcher Professor Dinesh Kumar from RMIT’s School of Engineering acknowledged some people may have doubts about the effectiveness of the tool, with a recent boom in telehealth apps claiming to diagnose a variety of conditions without scientific backing.
“(It) has been tested in multiple centres to make sure that it has not got biases towards people of any specific gender, or ethnicity or even language basis,” Mr Kumar told AAP.
“This is something which should be not used by everyone, but by a neurologist or clinician to monitor their patients and to test people.”
The scientists are seeking to expand the trial.
Australian Associated Press
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