Google Glass Finds its Place in Healthcare


Look into the healthcare crystal ball and you may see Google Glass. The wearable eye devices aren’t even out yet but they could become part of a doctor’s daily routine.

One of the most obvious benefits of Glass for doctors is the same provided by tablets and smartphones — easy access to information. For example, Glass would help doctors to do research during a patent interaction and not create an interruption, which is a common complaint of patients, said Dr. Molly Coye, chief innovation officer for the Institute of Innovation in Health and the University of California, Los Angeles.

“It’s one thing to serve up information better than a smartphone, but the impact of interaction really opens another world,” she said.

California-based dentist Ryan Hungate had the opportunity to try Glass after winning a Google-sponsored contest on Twitter looking for the best ideas on how to use Glass. Hungate’s Tweet? “Hate it when your Dr. always looks down during your appointment? I’m going to change that with Glass.”

Hungate says he sees Glass as a new type of assistant for doctors and dentists, as Glass can record and present information, which leaves practitioners free to interact with patients. And, using Glass as an interface for filling out electronic medical records will reduce human error and possibly prevent errors in care, which helps patients and saves money.

With an  app in the works to allow Glass to recognize faces, Hungate suggest that facial recognition technology could link patients to their medical records. While Hungate says this could make Glass all the more useful, Coye argued that in “98 percent of clinical cases, there’s plenty of time for the patient to provide information,” that allows docs to locate medical records. She cautioned against replacing already-working systems with Glass.

Dr. Joseph Rosen, a surgeon at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and professor of engineering, argues that Glass’s true value will be realized when it performs functions other technologies cannot. For instance, a doctor could visualize the health status of hundreds of patients with similar conditions over time to see how one specific patient compares, possibly allowing the doctor to tailor care.

A new level of interactivity with databases could be achieved with Glass, he says, though he added Glass will be used in ways that are impossible to predict.

As Glass infiltrates the doctor’s office, Coye says doctors must realize when Glass is adding value, rather than distracting attention.

For instance, in trauma situations, Glass could be used to deliver vital information, such as bringing up a patient’s medical history. If emergency responders could stream what they were seeing to doctors, hospitals could better prepare to react to an emergency.

In another scenario, trained doctors could transmit detailed instructions, including videos or pictures, back to emergency responders to ensure best possible care until patients reach the hospital, Coye says. In handling situations of trauma when the number of victims exceeds medical personnel, such as the recent Boston Marathon bombings, Glass could help doctors better monitor several patients at once, and help them split their time most successfully, according to Rosen.

Another possible application of Glass is for doctors to stream rare surgeries to medical students. But Coye pointed out that many medical hospitals already have doctors wearing simple, miniature cameras to record these procedures, making Glass irrelevant.

While many have raised concerns over the privacy issues Glass could violate, Hungate argues that the medical world is “more equipped” to handle this discussion, because of the high-standard HIPAA regulations present.

“We’d rather have our information private than someone save our life,” Rosen said, adding that though Glass has become a focal point of the discussion on privacy, it’s no different than many other devices, and should not take so much blame. Both Rosen and Hungate said doctors must continue to consider privacy, while Hungate added that Google must be more explicit about how they might use collected data as Glass infiltrates healthcare.