Is Google Glass the Next Breakthrough Technology in Healthcare?

December 1, 2014 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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OK, Glass, show us what you can do for healthcare. In 2013, Google (Mountain View, California) began selling beta versions of Google Glass to handpicked "explorers," among them emergency department (ED) physicians and surgeons who are testing the eyewear device in clinical settings. They are accessing patient data and radiologic images, streaming surgeries in the operating room (OR) to medical students, or developing diagnostic apps for rapid dissemination of lab test results. If hands-free information at the point of care is a practicing physician's Holy Grail, is Google Glass it? ECRI Institute* spoke with healthcare "explorers" for their take on what works, what's hyped, and whether Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy and security concerns could shatter Glass's potential.

Worn like a pair of eyeglasses, Google Glass sits above the right eye and contains a computerized central processing unit and a small optical head-mounted prism display with wireless connectivity through users' Bluetooth-enabled Android phone or iPhone. A right-temple touchpad allows users to scroll and select displayed menu items. A camera allows users to take pictures and record video. The titanium frames are described as "feather light" and can be worn with or without prescription lenses. The device responds to voice commands, such as "OK, Glass, record video," or "OK, Glass, take a picture," and can be controlled with subtle head movements. Earbuds can also be used with the device.

Google released Glass in February 2013, charging $1,500 to 8,000 select applicants whose proposed projects were selected on the Google+ forum.

One selected project was from Oliver J. Muensterer, MD, PhD, a pediatric surgeon at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore (New York). "Pediatric surgeons treat a wide variety of not very common disorders," said Muensterer. Thus, the idea of using Google Glass for telementoring and teleproctoring cases is a compelling one. "It would be great if we could have a means of connecting surgeons so that someone with expertise in certain procedures could help a surgeon in the OR who hasn't done as many," he explained. "That was the original idea." However, "it quickly became apparent that there were a number of applications we could use this...

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