Global Health

What smart toilet seats reveal about digital health's evolution

A male and female toilet sign. The smart toilet seat is just one of a multitude of digital health innovations attracting record levels of investment.

The smart toilet seat is just one of a multitude of digital health innovations attracting record levels of investment. Image: Unsplash/ Tim Mossholder

Simon Torkington
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Digital health is attracting record levels of investment in products such as smart toilet seats. In the US, the average size of a digital-health funding deal has doubled since 2019 to $39.9 million.
  • The move to digital telemedicine since the pandemic is expanding the geographical reach and diagnostic capabilities of doctors.
  • This could potentially help treat more of the 400 million people around the world who currently struggle to access healthcare.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic turned a visit to the doctor into a Zoom consultation, wearable digital devices were transforming the way we monitored our fitness and underlying health.

Smart watches and dedicated sports wearables can give real-time access to heart rates, blood oxygen levels, skin temperature and sleep patterns. These personal devices are already providing the healthcare industry with data that can monitor and improve patient outcomes.

The next stage in this digital healthcare revolution could be passive monitoring of vital health data via the fixtures and fittings in our homes.

High-tech toilets

A start-up in the US recently raised $30m to develop a smart toilet seat that records a range of health data. The company, Casana, is preparing to debut its Heart Seat. The company says the device “passively captures health parameters and seeks to reliably track health trends, with no behaviour change”. That means there’s no need to wear a device or exercise in order to produce the data.

A series of sensors will be built into the toilet seat to gather data on the mechanical and electrical activity of the heart and blood oxygenation levels.

A smart toilet seat designed to collect a range of health data.
A smart toilet seat designed to collect a range of health data. Image: Casana

Once the data has been collected it will be sent securely to a patient’s designated healthcare team. They’ll receive the information via a custom-designed dashboard.

An alert will be raised automatically if any of the measurements are outside pre-set parameters for individual patients. Casana says it hopes to “provide practitioners with reliable, clear trends with real-life context, enabling quicker reactions to help patients stay healthier at home”.

Funding a digital healthcare revolution

The smart toilet seat is just one of a multitude of digital health innovations attracting record levels of investment.

According to the non-profit Rock Health, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on healthcare services has driven the interest in health tech.

Venture capital is flowing into digital healthcare at record levels.
Venture capital is flowing into digital healthcare at record levels. Image: Rock Health

As the chart above shows, investments in digital healthcare in the US have been growing consistently since 2011. But the pandemic years have led to a huge spike, with capital raised leaping from a total of $8.2bn in 2019 to $29.1bn in 2021. The average investment deal in 2021 stood at $39.9m - double the average deal size in 2019 before the pandemic struck.

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The future of telemedicine

In the same way working from home has changed attitudes to careers, the enforced distancing of healthcare during the pandemic appears to have changed the public mindset on how we engage with healthcare services.

Rock Health’s Digital Consumer Adoption Survey suggests 73% of patients that used remote healthcare services recently “expect to continue using telemedicine at the same rate or higher in the future”.

How digital can increase access to healthcare

An estimated 400 million people around the world lack access to basic health services. Each year, close to 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty because they have to cover their own health costs.

Digital telemedicine has allowed for greater levels of doctor-patient engagement regardless of location, thereby significantly increasing the geographical reach of healthcare professionals.

Other capabilities of digital health include e-learning and mobile-learning tools that can drive greater preventative and health-seeking behaviours consistent with universal healthcare.

As healthcare technology gains traction, it’s likely our interactions with ‘digital doctors’ will become an increasingly common experience.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Global HealthFourth Industrial RevolutionEmerging Technologies
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