When Nicholas Conn tells people about his research, they often think he’s kidding at first. And that’s understandable, to a degree. The postdoctoral fellow at the Rochester Institute of Technology and founder of the medical device start-up Heart Health Intelligence designed a toilet seat capable of tracking its user’s heart health. Before they understand its purpose and abilities, a smart toilet seat seems absurd. Once they do, they’re completely on board with it.
“It’s funny, because at first people think it’s a joke,” Conn said. “They’ll say ‘a toilet seat’? What are you really working on? Then there’s an a-ha moment where they realize it makes sense.”
Conn conceived of the idea when he was trying to find a way to get people who’ve experienced congestive heart failure to perform the heart monitoring necessary to maintain their health. There are one million new cases of congestive heart failure diagnosed each year. Twenty five percent of of patients with congestive heart failure are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of receiving treatment. After 90 days of hospital discharge, 45 percent of patients are readmitted.
Conn believes there’s too much of a barrier of entry to heart monitoring for those patients. Patients need to take regular measurements of their heart activity while monitoring their cardiovascular health.
Currently, keeping track of those biological measurements disrupts the patient’s daily routine. Conn believed that the solution might lie in integrating heart monitoring into everyday life. And while people’s everyday lives vary in incalculable ways, Conn realized that there was one that was part of everyday life for every single person alive.
“Old, young, sick, healthy: everybody uses the bathroom,” Conn said.
Toilets are the rare things that everyone more or less certain to make skin to skin contact with everyday. Thought that contact a specially-equipped toilet seat could track the heart health of whoever sits on it. Medical professionals could get the information they need without asking their patients to leave their homes or do anything they weren’t already doing. When the skin on their legs makes contact with the toilet seat, the seat’s EKG, ballistic cardiograph and other sensors track heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygenation levels, weight and the amount of blood pumped out of the heart with each beat.
For the patient, it’s as easy as going to the bathroom.
After the seat takes the measurements, algorithms analyze the data for problems—they aim to have the system be capable of detecting deteriorating conditions before the patients even realize they are symptomatic. And with the rapid data analysis, interventions can be as simple as a drug change or short office visit, instead of an admission to the hospital.
“People love the idea that they can do nothing and get a snapshot of their heart health,” Conn said.