Why Your Doctor Might be Wearing Google Glass
May 1, 2014
Personal portable information technology is advancing at breathtaking speed. You probably know this already just from your own smartphone, but what you may not know is how it’s affecting healthcare. Most doctors already use smartphones in their clinical routine to perform tasks including communication, billing, photodocumentation, and information gathering. A further step is the recent introduction of Google Glass, a head-worn computer that has wireless connection capabilities, a high-definition camera, a prism display just above the right eye, a bone-conduction speaker, and a microphone.
As a surgeon, my colleagues and I wondered how Google Glass might benefit our work. In an exploratory study, we evaluated the clinical applicability of Glass in pediatric surgery. It was useful for hands-free communication, as well as for photo- and video-documentation, looking up medical terms in a dictionary, and coding/billing activities.
Here are a few examples for how Google Glass might assist doctors in the future:
- Telementoring during surgery: An experienced surgeon could give advice in real-time during an operation, from a different hospital or other location.
- Recording the consent discussion preoperatively: The surgeon would wear Glass during informed consent discussions, and the recording could later be shared with the family.
- Telepresence in the trauma bay: The attending surgeon could supervise junior practitioners in the first minutes of resuscitation before more experienced physicians arrive.
- Looking up rare and complex syndromes, conditions, or treatments: These searches could be performed in real-time, when issues come up on rounds, in conferences, or during discussions.
- Teaching procedures, during which the instructor could view the perspective of the student through the head-mount camera of Google Glass.
There were some drawbacks of the current equipment: low battery endurance (it lasts for about 8 to 10 hours for regular activities and only about 40 minutes with video-recording), data protection issues (the pictures are automatically uploaded to the Google cloud if the Internet connection is not disabled), poor overall audio quality (the bone conduction speaker is only audible in a very quiet environment, hardly practical in a busy hospital), as well as long transmission latency combined with interruptions and cut-offs during internet videoconferencing (this was examined in an experimental study with a transatlantic connection).
Overall, Glass is exciting technology that has many potential applications in medicine. Although the current version of Glass has some drawbacks, future improvements and the availability of special medical apps will almost certainly make this a very practical device for medical practitioners. If you see your doctor wearing it, he or she is likely just trying to figure out how to use the latest technology to better serve your needs.
Oliver J. Muensterer is a pediatric surgery at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, N.Y. He is married and has three children. Privately, he enjoys spending time with his family, playing the piano, and doing a variety of sports including windsurfing.