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Will Google Glass Change the Face of Medicine?


The blogosphere is abuzz with commentary on Google Glass and how we’ll use it in our daily lives. At Software Advice, we think Glass has especially exciting implications for the field of medicine.

Glass is essentially a computer you wear as glasses – hands-free, voice-activated, and literally in your face. Though currently only being used by a small audience of contest winners, Glass is slated for public release at the end of 2013.

Google’s mission statement for Glass is “getting technology out of the way.” Version 1.0 still looks a little goofy, and there are those who think it won’t catch on. But the wearable model heralds an evolutionary step forward – an exciting new way for people to interact with technology. Here, we speculate on three areas where Glass could impact the way healthcare providers deliver care.

1. A Second Opinion and Reference Library for Diagnoses

Let’s say a patient presents with an itchy red bump on her arm. Glass, activated by the physician’s voice, could prompt the doctor through a differential diagnosis for a suspected spider bite.

Glass could suggest questions to ask (e.g., “Are you experiencing any nausea?”). It could respond dynamically via voice recognition to words and phrases picked up in the doctor/patient conversation. If you’ve ever used Google Now, you’ll have an idea how graceful this functionality could be.

Some sophisticated EHR systems already offer diagnosis-prompting features, but harnessing this power in a hands-free device that can “understand” and react to spoken words would integrate more seamlessly into a patient encounter. What’s more, Glass wouldn’t require the physician to turn his back on the patient or focus attention on an external screen.

And what if Google collected and stored de-identified images from global networks of participating physicians – a sort of picture archiving and communication system (PACS) on steroids? With a voice command, our doctor could snap a picture of the patient’s bite and have Google instantly compare that image with others in the database (not unlike Google’s Goggles application).

Google Glass aiding in diagnosis

Google could suggest a match with other documented cases and display important information about the potential diagnosis. The doctor could inspect the database images and the spider bite in front of him all in the same plane of vision.

2. A Heads-Up Display for Surgeons

Glass’s built-in video functionality will be useful for surgeons. Imagine a surgeon live-streaming her procedure to a class of medical students, or a surgical resident live-streaming his procedure to a supervising physician. Perhaps in a few years we’ll even see a Glass “certification” of sorts – a training hospital guaranteeing that certain resident-performed procedures are monitored in real time via Glass.

With some additional software development, Glass might be able to go beyond broadcasting video to third parties. What if Glass could deliver intraoperative imaging directly to an operating surgeon?

In order to monitor exactly where in the patient’s body their surgical instruments are, surgical teams sometimes take periodic X-rays throughout a procedure, or a surgeon may insert a scope equipped with a tiny camera. The image is then projected onto a screen, which the surgeon can reference to accurately gauge positioning.

Here, Glass could again solve a problem of focus. With basic integration between Glass and the imaging system, Glass’s screen could display the X-ray image or video feed to the surgeon “in eye.” This would allow the surgeon to maintain focus on the surgical site, rather than having to move attention away from the patient to a peripheral screen.

Google Glass aiding in surgery

That’s not exactly X-ray vision, but functionally it’s getting close. And I have to imagine that a tool which limits distractions during surgery would improve surgical outcomes.

3. Eye on Site for Virtual Medicine

The burgeoning field of virtual medicine would reap major benefits from a highly-portable, easy-to-operate device with hands-free video recording and transmitting.

One typical virtual medicine scenario today (pre-Glass) might play out as follows: A patient in a rural setting needs to see a specialist not available in his community. Rather than have his primary care physician refer him to a specialist far away, the patient might arrange a video appointment with a specialist without having to leave home.

Let’s take that a step further. Imagine if the primary care physician could call up said specialist on Glass live during the patient visit, giving that specialist first-person access to the patient encounter in real time. This would save time and money, not to mention taking integrated care to new levels.

Similarly, first responders or others in the field could video conference with a specialist to show what they’re seeing on the ground in real time. A military physician on a field of battle treating a an eye injury, for example, could consult live with an ophthalmologist. An EMT called to the scene of a heart attack could conference in a cardiologist to provide live feedback.

Google Glass aiding in virtual medicine

The specialist would be able to see what the practitioner on the ground sees, up close and personal. In turn, the physician or first responder would have valuable medical feedback quite literally before his very eyes.

Glass’s ease of use means a practitioner on the ground could voice-activate the entire exchange without having to set up equipment or have someone hold a camera (logistical challenges in the field). Such instant access would save money and, more importantly, time – which in medicine tends to equate with saving lives.

The possible applications of Google Glass in medicine present promising opportunities for improved efficiency and quality care. “Getting technology out of the way,” per Glass’s self-proclaimed mission statement, would mean allowing physicians to access and share powerful information quickly, without sacrificing their connection to the patient or procedure at hand.

And let’s remember: Glass is still in its infancy. Wearable technology is fertile ground for software developers, and it’s likely that in a few years’ time, Glass and other wearables be used in ways even Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy couldn’t imagine today.

How do you expect Glass to contribute to medicine? Add to the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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Melissa McCormack

About the Author

Melissa McCormack is the Managing Editor for the The Profitable Practice. She conducts primary research on the challenges and benefits of implementing healthcare IT solutions. Her work has been cited in many notable publications, including Quartz, InformationWeek, Electronics Weekly, and

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