How medtech startup Docturnal repurposed its TB diagnosis app to prescreen COVID-19 patients

Hyderabad-based medtech startup Docturnal has repurposed its TB solution to allow people to prescreen themselves for COVID-19. It does this through an app that analyses coughs, and measures the respiration rate and oxygen saturation level.

How medtech startup Docturnal repurposed its TB diagnosis app to prescreen COVID-19 patients

Sunday May 17, 2020,

4 min Read

At a time when India is readying for Lockdown 4.0 and the government has announced an economic package worth Rs 20 lakh crore to fight the coronavirus pandemic situation, Indian startups continue to innovate to win the COVID-19 war.

Exhausting medical supplies and overworked healthcare professionals have made prescreening of COVID-19 patients more important than ever.

Hyderabad-based medtech startup Docturnal has repurposed its tuberculosis (TB) screening app to prescreen COVID-19 suspects and identify people who need to take the RT-PCR tests.

Founded in 2016 by Arpita Singh, Rahul Pathri, and Vaishanavi Reddy, Docturnal is aimed at providing point of care and non-invasive screening and prognosis for pulmonary tuberculosis and pneumonia. Its flagship product, TimBre, is a TB screening application, which analyses coughs of an individual to diagnose the disease.

Docturnal team

Docturnal team at UNION Lung Conference 2019

Speaking to YourStory, Rahul said that while working on tuberculosis, the company also gathered data to extend its services for diagnosing CoPD, asthma, and pneumonia.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, we repurposed our solution as we already had the data. We just had to re-label it for pneumonia-specific ailments and run certain machine learning algorithms; the hardware remained the same,” Rahul said.

According to Rahul, the number of TimBre screening camps (pilots) conducted in Telangana is around 25; they involve an average of 70 patients at each location. Including third-party clinical trials, around 4,000 patients have been helped using the TB solution.

Home-based COVID-19 prescreening tool

Rahul says they decided to repurpose TimBre as coVawe, which will allow people to prescreen themselves from the comfort of their home, through the app, by coughing into their mobile microphones. 

“The current COVID-19 scenario has caused us to move to a business-to-consumer (B2C) model as users can use coVawe from their homes to prescreen. Prior to this, the tuberculosis solution used a third-party microphone in a public health hospital,” Rahul said.

Rahul explained that one needs to maintain hygiene protocols while taking the test. Users will have to answer a few related questions about symptoms and then record their cough on the app. Following this, they need to sanitise the mobile phone to avoid infection. 

“We give a subjective score to questions asked to users regarding symptoms such as shortness of breath or oxygen saturation level as answers to these might not be fully known to the users. But, we give the objective probability score of having COVID-19 once the user records their cough, which is analysed by the proprietary machine learning model. We send them a report on pathological characteristics of the cough,” Rahul said.

Apart from coughing, the app has also been designed to measure the respiration rate and oxygen saturation level of the user as biomarkers for COVID-19 diagnosis. Provisional patents for these two biomarkers have also been recently filed.

Ready for deployment

Last month, Docturnal was nominated by Bengaluru-based incubator Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP) as a deployment-ready COVID-19 innovation.

Rahul declined to give names of the hospitals Docturnal has tied up with, but claimed that it is working with a healthcare provider in Indonesia, which operates multiple hospitals, for pneumonia and pulmonary TB screening.

He also added that Docturnal was being evaluated by an European company for deployment in African countries for pneumonia and pulmonary TB screening.

Rahul explained that for tuberculosis, the details of screened patients would be shared with the National Tuberculosis Elimination Programme (NTEP) through the app and they would be connected with doctors for further treatment.

However, this feature is not yet available for COVID-19 purposes. Docturnal is working on the public healthcare system to send the details of the patient.

The healthtech startup has already completed one clinical trial on 500 patients at Mazumdar Shaw Medical Foundation and is waiting on results of two more trials from Bengaluru and Hyderabad. It has also signed an agreement with Konexaa for deployment in Indonesia and other Asia-Pacific countries.

COVID-19 generally shows pneumonia-like characteristics or symptoms in the lungs and we have enough data on pneumonia to prescreen users. However, we are awaiting COVID-19 labelled data from ICMR and reaching out to nodal offices across Telangana to obtain coronavirus data,” Rahul said.

The app is available as a prescreening tool currently, but the company is planning to develop and relaunch it as a COVID-19 screening tool. 

“The prescreening tool was launched with pneumonia baseline data. The screening tool will be launched with both, COVID-19 and pneumonia baseline data. Post that, we will conduct a full clinical trial under the guidance of ICMR,” Rahul added.

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)

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