Ever think about the future of the humble toilet? Probably not.
But every year, some people do as part of the Toilet of the Future Competition. This year’s winner brings to light a growing trend in the medical industry—at-home diagnostic tests.
Designed by Sam Sheard, Pierre Papet, and Victor Johansson, who are students at the University of the Arts in London, the “Wellbeing Toilet” features an ergonomically friendly design that puts the potty-goer in a squatting position instead of sitting—they say it creates less strain. But most importantly, the toilet incorporates built-in screening systems.
That means the commode can analyze your waste matter in order to detect diseases, nutritional deficiencies, and pregnancy—all from the comfort of home.
At-Home Testing Products Flood the Market
From allergy tests to fertility sensors and HIV screens, the market is growing for do-it-yourself tests.
A recent study from Sweden found that at-home HPV tests could be vital for detecting HPV and cervical cancer in women who are over the age of regular screening—those from 60 to 65 years old. Researchers say that 25 percent of cervical cancer cases occur in women older than 65. They also say that self-testing is just as effective as testing done by a physician.
“We are usually able to cure cases of cancer that are identified through smear tests. For those women who have not been for smear tests, the cancer has progressed considerably further by the time it is diagnosed. It is these women who are at risk of dying from the disease,” said Dr. Lotten Darlin, a professor at Lund University in Sweden, in a statement.
Dan Fletcher, vice chair of the bioengineering department at the University of California, Berkeley and the faculty lead for Berkeley Engineering’s Health at Home initiative, said he's been impressed by tools such as mobile ECGs, glucose monitors, and pulse oximeters.
"A start-up company spun out of my lab has just launched a mobile phone otoscope. But all of these are at a preliminary stage—the measurements can be made, but how should they be integrated in a healthcare workflow to improve quality of care?" Fletcher said. "I think the potential is enormous, but that can only be realized by controlled studies of patient outcomes, cost effectiveness analysis, and further development of methods for turning data into information."
Tests Incorporate High-Tech Tools
Another recent innovation was created by engineers at Cornell University. They say the technology used to read test strips for already existing at-home cholesterol tests can be expensive—that’s why they created a method that lets people monitor their cholesterol using an iPhone app and an attachment.
A light diffuser is placed over the iPhone’s camera flash, and a test strip cradle is put over the camera. The patient puts a drop of blood onto the test strip, places it into the cradle, and then takes a photo. The mobile app analyzes the colorimetric changes that cholesterol’s enzymatic reaction causes on the test strip. After some early testing, the developers found that their readings were accurate within three percent of readings from a traditional device.
Fletcher says he expects to see more tech-driven at-home tests and monitoring devices hit the market soon.
"I believe at-home monitoring will be the rule, and we will all be using mobile devices as our first stop for healthcare information," Fletcher said, adding that mobile phones and related technologies will help people monitor everything from routine blood counts to cognitive function to biomarkers.
So what draws people to at-home testing?
"I think people want to demystify their health. Why am I nauseous? What is that bump? Part of the motivation is certainly an interest in knowing now rather than waiting for an appointment, but accuracy is critical as well," Fletcher said. "I think the best route forward is to develop ways for at-home testing to become part of our physician-directed health care, rather than an alternative to it."
Whatever at-home tests you consider, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor before and after you have your results.