The ultimate health monitoring device will be something you sit on
Technology is causing major shifts in how we manage our health.
One of these shifts is from infrequent to continuous health monitoring. Biometric tracking was once reserved for annual checkups, but can now be done passively through your smart watch or ring.
As a result, lifestyle recommendations are also shifting from generalized to specific. Your phone’s health tracking apps are more accessible and applicable than the food pyramid and exercise posters at the doctor’s office.
The trend of rising sophistication and falling costs in health technology begs the question:
Where is this headed?
The ultimate direction of health tech is complete physical assessments that are passive, continuous and minimally intrusive.
Perhaps the final destination of health tech will be a toilet.
The term smart toilet is commonly used to describe toilets that have seat warmers, spray nozzles or other comfort and cleanliness features. However, the smart toilet of the future will act as a biometric hub and home laboratory that you sit on.
Such a toilet could passively collect stool, urine, body weight and temperature data, or actively collect blood and saliva samples. By integrating data from other biometric monitoring devices, your toilet could create a continuous health profile and become the ultimate preventative medicine device.
By analyzing the samples it collects, and leveraging genetic and biometric data, your toilet may soon give the most complete, and ongoing assessment of the individualized interplay between nutrition, microbiome, exercise, sleep, disease and health.
- Physical activity: step count, sleep tracking, breathing patterns
- Body fluids: blood, urine, stool, saliva, vomit
- Biometrics: weight, height, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, blood oxygen saturation
- Appearance: skin, hair, moles, discolouration, pupil dilation, teeth
- Genetic: genome sequencing, tumour DNA, viral RNA
The idea of a health-oriented smart toilet is already being pursued by researchers at Stanford. Led by Dr. Sam Gambhir, their initial prototype analyzes stool and urine to detect abnormalities and infections, while their next design will seek to detect colorectal cancer and viral RNA. For an estimated $300-$600, a toilet fixture could soon be a huge leap for the screening for certain cancers or viruses.
With added functionality and data sharing, smart toilets could also help:
- limit the spread of contagious diseases through early detection and quarantine recommendations
- accelerate drug testing by more easily deploying and monitoring drug trials
- improve peoples’ longevity and quality of life by tailoring lifestyle recommendations and early disease detection
- grow our understanding of the human microbiome, and how it relates to health
Once deployed at scale, such a toilet would also benefit from network effects. The more users generate health data, the more robust and insightful recommendations would become. Multi-function, integrated smart toilets would yield invaluable data to health practitioners, pharmaceutical companies and everyday people alike.
The ultimate health device would inevitably be the ultimate data device.
The inevitable questions arise: Who would own the data coming from a smart toilet, and what is done with the data?
One option being explored by Dr. Gambhir’s team is to provide smart-toilet data directly to health providers, letting them know immediately of an anomaly in a patient’s stool or urine samples. The efficiencies of direct data sharing between toilets and doctors’ offices makes sense for cancer diagnoses, but is unnecessary for daily optimizations of diet, sleep and exercise.
Just as social media companies have created intimate profiles of their users’ interests, habits and relationships, so too might toilet companies create intimate profiles of their users’ health. What marketable insights could be gleaned from continuous monitoring of body fluids or biometric data?
A toilet that tracks your health could recommend a menu for the week, as well as what vitamins, supplements and medications are best for you. It could recommend sports equipment or exercise classes in your area. It could become your health or life insurance provider, since it knows your health more intimately than you do.
Instead of a smart toilet costing thousands, perhaps it is more likely to be free, provided you agree to the terms and conditions.
With the way peoples’ online data has been gathered and used in the past, there are potentially troubling outcomes:
- Hackers stealing, ransoming or manipulating peoples’ health data
- Manipulation of peoples’ spending habits as foods and drugs are marketed to them by companies that buy and sell their data.
- Employers continuously monitoring employees’ use of drugs or alcohol
- Obsolescence of nutritionists, pharmacists, dieticians, as your toilets disrupt various industries and professions
The possibilities and pitfalls of health tech are endless in a world of abundantly cheap and interconnected devices. Your toilet may be the next big step in living a long and healthy life.
The final diet fad could simply be the Toilet Diet.
How do you stay so healthy?…. I follow the advice of my toilet, of course.
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