Why you can’t use Google Glass when you’re talking to a patient

After using Google Glass for a few months in various medical settings, one of the silliest things I hear and read about is how you can use Glass when you’re talking to patients.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are plenty of uses for Glass in medicine.

I made this clear last month when I wrote an article titled, How Google Glass will save your life one day.  In that article I highlighted how Glass will be used in medicine, but also touched on how I was perplexed by people who think Glass can be used in patient encounters. I’ll elaborate more.

The typical scenario I hear and read about is the following: How cool would it be if I(physician) was talking to a patient, and I could read about their prior H&Ps and lab and imaging results at the same time. It sounds like a good concept, but you can’t do this without being rude to your patient.

To understand why, you have to understand the facial look someone has when they are actually using Google Glass. If you get any notification or message on Glass, your right upper visual field is immediately taken up, and you can’t help but dart your eyes quickly to read the message or alert. I call it the blank glazed over stare. This stare is what the patient would see when they are talking to you and have their eyes fixed on you — not ideal.

Imagine talking to a patient and looking at your watch in the middle of the conversation — it’s the same loss of eye contact, except at least when you look at your watch your patient knows what you’re reading. With Glass, if you’re talking to someone, it’s immediately noticeable if the person is looking at their Glass screen in their right upper visual field. Even if you’re able to train your eyes to only look straight at the patient and ignore the alerts and messages in your visual field, if you’re in close proximity to the patient, they will be able to see your Glass screen lighting up. Not professional.

The counter I will hear to this is the following: But plenty of physicians use Laptops or tablets when talking to patients! While this is true, when you’re using a laptop or a tablet with a patient, they have a better understanding of what you’re doing. You don’t have a blank glazed over stare on your face as you do with Glass. The look just isn’t as awkward.

As I mentioned in my How Glass will save your life one day article, there are settings where not meeting typical medical professionalism guidelines is trumped by the acuity of the patient — such as a crashing patient or during a procedure.  But for a low acuity setting, such as the clinic where you’re discussing  a patient’s back pain, the use of Glass should be done appropriately.

So how are you supposed to use Glass with patients? I’ll discuss the etiquettes of using Glass for patient care in my next article.

Remember, though, when talking to a patient in a low acuity setting and actively using Glass at the same time, there is a good chance you’re coming off as unprofessional.