Looking at surgery through Google Glass
JULY 29, 2013 AT 2:55 PM
Wearable technology is starting to proliferate. Google Glass is already in the hands of a few early testers, and speculation about Apple’s impending iWatch abounds with its recent trademarking of the name iWatch in Japan.
While wearable devices are sure to spice up general consumer interaction with mobile technology, they have even more important implications for the medical field. First, there are the medical education components. Glass is hands-free and voice-activated. Right out of the box, an operating surgeon could use Glass to record a procedure and stream it live. Once the right privacy settings exist, it’s easy to imagine Glass being used for surgeons to stream procedures hands-free to medical students or residents.
Alternatively, a surgical resident could use the hands-free technology to stream a procedure to a supervising physician. Maybe we’ll even see academic facilities in a decade that have a “Glass certification” of some kind, guaranteeing to patients that certain procedures are monitored by supervising physicians in real time using Glass.
Surgeons could also use Glass to videoconference with consulting specialists. This already happens during some surgeries today, but the video feed from these interactions appears on screens or monitors set up in the operating room. In order to see the video, a surgeon has to turn his head away from the incision site to focus on the screen.
Glass would allow that consultative feedback to be delivered “in eye,” so to speak – right at the surgeon’s plane of vision. This would align attention between what the surgeon is doing and where he’s looking.
A similar problem of focus alignment exists today with the video feed from camera-equipped endoscopes that are inserted into a patient’s body during a procedure. In order to actually see what the camera is recording, the surgeon must turn his head away from his patient toward a peripheral screen. But with the right integration, Glass could display this video feed right before the surgeon’s eyes.
What if that in-eye display could also be used to show a patient’s vitals during a procedure? Perhaps Glass could display warnings if a patient is approaching the upper or lower limits of normal. Again, the value here would be eliminating the need for the surgeon to look away from the patient to monitor such information.
I have to imagine that a tool that allows a surgeon to maintain focus on the patient during surgery – novel idea! – would do wonders for patient safety and surgical success rates. In a few years, wearable technology like Google Glass will probably be used in ways we haven’t even thought of yet – and since I’m not a surgeon, I certainly don’t pretend these are the only surgical uses for such a device. I’m excited to see what the future of surgery looks like through Glass.