People with a heart condition are notoriously bad at monitoring their own health. In fact, 45 percent of all patients with congestive heart failure who are released from hospital are admitted to hospital within 90 days.
This is not only a problem for the quality of life of heart patients, but also because Medicare and Medicaid harm hospitals when patients are admitted too quickly after being discharged. To address the problem, researchers from the Rochester Institute of Technology have found a way to integrate sensors into an object that everyone has to deal with several times a day and that can passively monitor heart health while eliminating the need for it to do then sit down.
The next limit in heart health is: toilet seat.
"Even the most well-meaning patients will not measure their blood pressure every day," says Nicholas Conn, an engineer from the Rochester Institute of Technology and CEO of Heart Health Intelligence. To find the easiest way to monitor patients' health without their input, the RIT development team asked: "What can we do to integrate technology into daily life? A computer, a mouse, a steering wheel in the car ? What do people use every day? "
The toilet seat was the most obvious answer – it makes direct contact with the skin (which facilitates monitoring) and everyone uses it.
Their resulting toilet seat monitor contains all the tools needed to recognize the deteriorating health of a heart patient. The chair has three main instruments: an electrocardiogram, which uses electrodes on the surface of the seat to measure the electrical activity of the heart; a photoplethysmogram, the same sensor included in a FitBit, which measures the heart rate of the patient; and a ballistocardiogram, which measures a patient's weight and, based on how it fluctuates when the heart beats, determines the volume of blood that passes through the heart. (This works because the heart builds up enough pressure to physically press on your body when pumping. The RIT team was the first to ever show that a ballistocardiogram can be used to calculate blood volume through the heart.)
The instruments are so sensitive that the team estimates that patients only need to sit on the chair for about 90 seconds to get a full reading. And they have even designed their algorithms to recognize if the patient is at rest or having trouble – because bowel movements and urinating can actually cause huge changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. "Part of our innovation is that we have algorithms that we can use to identify the physiological condition of the patient. Are they rest or exertion? We reject the sections where they are not at their baseline," says Conn.
Although Conn says he sees a future in which the toilet seat is commercially available for everyone to buy, his business is now focused on developing it for medical applications. The final version of the chair has a built-in battery that lasts up to six years and probably uses cellular connection technology, so that the only setup or interaction that a patient has to do is simply installed as a normal toilet seat.
Implantable medical cardiac monitoring equipment, which offers a comparable service, can cost up to $ 40,000. Conn estimates that they can only charge $ 100 a month for their toilet seat, including all necessary security services. This opens up passive heart monitoring for a much larger group of patients and could ultimately change many lives. Therefore, the company is working on FDA approval and is expected to be available by the end of 2021 or early 2022.
"We are really focused on reducing the cost of care and improving the quality of life of patients," he says and notes that congestive heart failure is not a curable disease. "With the average lifespan of a patient with heart failure, 50 percent die in five years. It has a worse prognosis than many cancers. It is a disease in the end stage. Are you in the hospital or in your home? We hope people at home and improve their quality of life. "