March 14, 2014

Google Glass presents an abundance of possibilities as an untapped source of innovation in many industries, including patient care.

Researchers have already been developing clinical uses for the device to see if its use can help improve clinical quality. One company in particular is using Google Glass to tackle another hurdle the healthcare industry faces today: physician shortages.

“One of the problems with wound care is it’s hard to get the right expert to the patient with a wound at the right time, whether it’s a physician or a nurse. There aren’t enough people to go around,” says Mike Comer, CEO of Sierra Madre, Calif.-based Wound Care Advantage, which helps hospitals manage wound care programs.

Physician shortages are not unique to wound care, but WCA has harnessed Google Glass to fit a necessary niche in the specialty.

The lack of wound care specialists can have deadly consequences for severe, non-healing wound patients. To put the issue into perspective, Mr. Comer offers the following statistics. Every 3.8 seconds, a non-healing wound develops in the United States. Every 30 seconds, a limb is amputated due to a diabetic wound. Sixty-two percent of all amputees die within five years. The increasing rates of diabetes, obesity and the aging population are only contributing to the rates of non-healing wounds, he says.

“Our purpose in life is to prevent amputations,” Mr. Comer says.

That’s where Google Glass comes in, as a preventive measure to connect specialists with patients to increase and improve care, even if they are geographically separated.

Wound Care Advantage started using Google Glass in its partner wound programs in January. In addition to helping hospitals develop wound care programs, WCA has a group of independent outpatient physicians who provide consultation.

When a patient with a severe wound comes into one of WCA’s partner wound program hospitals, any healthcare provider tending to him or her can wear the Google Glass and connect to a remote outpatient physician via a specially encrypted wireless Internet system linked to the Google Glass. The physician is able to see what the healthcare provider with the patient is seeing through the device and can discreetly communicate with the provider to offer guidance in the given situation.

“I have a nurse who’s looking at the wound, unwrapping the wound, feeling the skin, who is communicating that to the physician. What I’m seeing full time, the nurse sees. I can get real feedback, not an idea, not a phone call, not simply someone telling me what they think. I can see what’s happening and I can guide the nurse,” Mr. Comer says. “The doctor might be in an outpatient wound center miles away or just on the other side of the hospital.”

Mr. Comer prefers to call this type of consultation “virtual wound management” as opposed to telemedicine.

“Rather than what we all know as telemedicine, really this is just having that peer over your shoulder,” he says.

What separates Google Glass from other forms of virtual communication is the hands-free element. The device is simply worn as a pair of glasses.

“If someone’s using an iPhone or iPad, they can’t really treat patients the way they normally would. They have to rely on uncomfortable and unusual positions to film and do what they need to do,” Mr. Comer says. “When we first saw the Google Glass, we saw that’s a form factor we needed.”

As with all devices requiring a cyber connection, WCA had to ensure the hardware would be HIPAA compliant.

“Out of the box, Google Glass does not [meet HIPAA-compliance requirements],” Mr. Comer says. “We were able to identify a company [Austin, Texas-based Pristine] that was able to develop a HIPAA compliant app that allows us to take this to both our outpatient and inpatient wound care.”

The only other potential barrier Mr. Comer identified associated with Google Glass is patient comfort levels.

“You have to really inform, educate and make sure the patients themselves are okay with it,” Mr. Comer says. “We went through the education process with every patient. We explain why we’re wearing it, what we’re going to do while we’re wearing it and that nothing is recorded or stored, so they know these things before we start using it.”

Mr. Comer sees Google Glass as a force that will remain in healthcare for many years to come, expanding into other specialties and developing beneficial uses. But until the new developments and advancements come to fruition, Google Glass is a welcome tool in wound care.

“Google Glass, as it stands today, is a really good solution for the people who have figured out specifically how to use it,” Mr. Comer says. “Right now, a very simple use is what we’re focusing on. It’s allowing us to look at patients in real-time, quickly and cost-efficiently. That’s all we’re trying to prove. And we think we’ve nailed it.”


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