How Will Google Glass Affect Medicine?

I'm wearing Google Glass at work. And yes, I'm getting weird looks.

google glass

I wear this device around MGH all day long. It’s even my Twitter pic.

Google Glass, the yet-to-be publicly released head-mounted wearable computer with an optical display that sits above the right eye (comfortably, in my opinion), could very well become standard issue for healthcare professionals.

When I was first invited to purchase the device, which has a camera and runs android apps, with a cost of $1500 plus tax, I had a few questions. First, how is Glass going to help me become more efficient? Second, how will this device improve the outcomes for my patients? And lastly, what kind of reception will I receive walking around the hospital looking like a cyborg?

In early April, it was revealed that doctors in the emergency department at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center had begun to use Glass in the ER. In fact, doctors at every major medical center in Boston have begun to experiment with the use of Glass. One of the biggest benefits of using it is being able obtain information on the go, without having to leave the patient’s bedside, and often without having to break eye contact for more than a couple of seconds. One caveat: If your doc is using Glass, you’ll probably see them plugging it into a battery pack, because in my experience, a single charge only lasts through a couple of hours of intense use. Hopefully this is something that will be improved once the consumer version is released.

So, what can Glass do better? And how are doctors going to use it? While I have been using Glass, people have been suggesting a whole range of different uses. While some have intrigued me, others seemed to be more of an attempt to find a purpose for this trendy new technology. One aspect I hope it can address is the length of time I have to spend writing my medical notes, which at present takes up at least a third of my day. Thankfully there are companies working on developing apps that would allow Glass to write a computerized medical visit note by analyzing the speech and physical interactions between a doctor and their patient.

My experiences with Glass have led me to believe that there are several promising uses for it in our hospitals, which may open the door to the emergence of widespread wearable technology in medicine. So what are the advantages of doctors sporting a pair of these rather trendy cyborg glasses? I’ve outlined three below:

1. Use as a communication device.

Right now, I’m looking at my black and green text pager, an old school device that has been subject to relatively few changes over the last few decades. Glass could very well replace my ancient pager, and help communicate text, videos, pictures, and imaging data on the go to other physicians. Glass could help connect primary care clinicians or hospitalists to specialists, and resident physicians to their attendings all in the blink of an eye. Have a skin rash? Your doctor can consult a dermatologist at another location who could not only see the rash, but can also see and hear you and discuss treatment options. Glass could very well herald a new branch of telemedicine.

2. Provide seamless access to medical tests and scans.

Doctors spend inordinate amounts of time hunched over computer terminals. Glass could bring medical information, scans, and other reports, within an eye glance of the physician while treating patients. One of my colleagues, Jordan Amadio, a neurosurgeon and founder of the Consortium for Wearable Computing in Surgery, has been experimenting with using Glass inside the operating theater, using it to scroll through patient MRI scans through his subtle head movements. Away from the operating room, his team has been using Glass to rapidly recall laboratory values, imaging, and vital signs at patient bedsides.

3. Enhance medical education.

Glass provides several features that can dramatically change how our resident physicians and medical students learn medicine. First, Glass allows for procedures, operations, and clinical examinations to be telecast to groups of trainees, which allows for students to view and interact with real clinical situations. Students who are seeing patients may also benefit from being able to be remotely guided and assessed by their more experienced mentors. Glass can also provide information to trainees by incorporating checklists, algorithms, and even video guidance in order to enhance their practice.

Want to learn more about Glass in Healthcare? I will be part of the Expert Panel for MedTech Boston’s Google Glass Challenge on April 23 – click here for details.