An Israeli startup that can detect subtle voice changes in order to flag health issues like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma and pneumonia won first place in the Henry Ford Health System’s Increasing Patient and Caregiver Engagement to Reduce Readmission Challenge.

The startup, Healthymize, has a smartphone app that listens for negative breathing patterns, a particular kind of cough or deterioration in a caller’s rate of speech and compares that with a baseline of previously recorded calls. If it hears something suspicious, the app alerts the patient and medical caregiver.

That can be especially important for COPD patients since most don’t contact their physician when symptoms begin, but rather wait four or more days. Yet every 24-hour delay doubles the risk of hospitalization, stresses Dr. Shady Hassan, the company’s CEO and cofounder.

Henry Ford issued the challenge as part of its Global Technology Development Program, which has been underway in Israel since 2017. The program aims to identify cutting-edge healthcare technologies, then co-develop and launch them in the US healthcare market.

Healthymize beat out nearly 50 other applicants for the top spot, which includes a $75,000 research and development grant.

“If we detect changes in health conditions before they become serious, we can reduce hospitalization and readmission rates significantly,” said Mark Coticchia, VP and chief innovation officer for Henry Ford Health System, which runs six hospitals in Detroit, Michigan.

“Healthymize has the potential to expand and detect other health-related concerns, such as heart disease and mental health issues,” added Dr. Scott Dulchavsky, CEO of the Henry Ford Innovation Institute and Surgeon-in-Chief at Henry Ford Hospital.

In 2017, Healthymize won the mHealth startup competition in Israel and the Ministry of Health’s Leading Healthcare Initiative contest.