CHICAGO -- Computer analysis of speech patterns can predict when patients are at risk of heart attacks or depression, a researcher said this week.
Although it is still experimental as a clinical tool, within a few years computer speech analysis will be used as commonly as electrocardiography to diagnose heart patients, said Dr. Ernest H. Friedman, a psychiatrist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He spoke to reporters at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.
Using a laptop computer and an electronic device that converts speech to digitized signals, Dr. Friedman said that on Sunday he spoke by telephone to a patient in Ohio who questioned whether his medication dosage was working. With his knowledge of the patient's medical condition and a computerized speech analysis of his voice, Dr. Friedman said, he advised the patient by
Dr. Friedman, who treats many patients who suffer depression after having coronary bypass surgery, said he usually speaks by telephone with patients once or more daily to get computer speech analyses that help him determine if the medications he prescribes are working.
Because heart patients are more susceptible to coronary events in the morning and manic-depressives are more likely to suffer mania at night, Dr. Friedman said, getting his computer analyses at different times of the day is essential.
"Eighty percent of manic-depressives go into mania at night," he said. "If a doctor sees a patient during the day, he'll look like a pussycat, but when night comes, look out. Without analysis at different times, the doctor will miss what's happening."
The computer program looks at the number of pauses in a person's speech, tabulating how many times he pauses, how long the pauses are, when they occur and other subtleties that only a machine could detect and measure.
When people imbibe liquor, caffeine, cocaine or other drugs, the subtleties of their speech change and the computer program can spot it, Dr. Friedman said.
Shifts in speech reflect a person's inner stress, as well as such things as blood pressure and the amount of oxygen reaching the brain and heart, Dr. Friedman said.
He said five physicians are using his speech analysis program to diagnose patients.
The connection between speech patterns and coronary risk was established in two decade-long studies of Ohio men done at Case Western, Dr. Friedman said.
In both studies, Dr. Friedman said, the correlation between certain speech patterns and coronary risk held up 85 percent of the time.