Google Glass is going to save your life.
Maybe not today, this week, or this month–but eventually it will.
When Glass was initially released at the beginning of the year, I was skeptical of its proposed utilizations in medicine.
My main beef was why you couldn’t use a smartphone or laptop to do some of the same functions people were proposing for Glass.
I still signed up to receive an early pair because of how novel the device was and all the hype surrounding Glass.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been using my Glass Explorer edition extensively in the hospital (no recording or taking pictures of any patient information) and also for personal use. A few short weeks of use have me convinced it will save lives–to the extent that I’m forming my own software team to start experimenting with potential applications in medicine.
It’s also important to note there are ways Glass will not be used in medicine. I can’t help but laugh at some of the things I read, such as how Glass can be used to help keep eye contact with patients while talking to them in a primary care setting. I’ll explain why you’ll be getting complaints if you actually try to use Glass while talking to a patient.
I was pleasantly surprised at how polished the actual device and interface is. The device doesn’t feel like a beta product at all. The hardware is beautiful and doesn’t feel cheap like most Android phones do. The most surprising part of the device is how clear the projected display appears. Google says the display size is equivalent to a 25 inch HD display 8 feet away from you–I would argue the display feels even larger. You are easily able to view videos and pictures vividly.
Using the device is easy. The voice commands work easily and the touch display on the right frame of the device is very responsive. I’ll do a further in-depth review of the actual device later, but the main purpose of this article is to explain how Glass is going to save your life.
Why Google Glass will be used in medicine
The first criticism I had about Glass being used in medicine was how existing technologies can be utilized instead of Glass. When I immersed myself in patient care with Glass I quickly realized how it’s different.
“Hands Free” is a big deal
In medicine, we use our hands all the time, whether we are examining a patient, administering medications, or doing a procedure. Glass enables you to do all three of these things while keeping your hands free.
Imagine being in the back of an EMS truck taking care of a critically ill patient. Instead of merely trying to stabilize the patient while rushing to the local Emergency Room, Glass would enable you to start acute interventions quicker.
Yes, there is technology that has already made attempts at doing this in the form of mobile video teleconferencing–but this requires an EMS provider to use one or both hands–which is not practical at all. Glass is the farthest thing from cumbersome. With Glass, an EMS provider can start a video stream while in the back of the ambulance and stream it to the local Emergency Room or an offsite Physician, talk to a Physician with the microphone built into the frame, and then get real time feedback with the built in headphone. The EMS provider can do all of this hands free while getting IV access and pushing life saving medications.
The bone conduction transducer is essential here–you don’t need to have anything plugged into your ear, and you don’t need to speak directly into anything. Basically, Glass uses your skull to transmit and receive sound. This basic principle tremendously increases its utility in medicine, which I detail later.
Procedures & Surgery — hands free enables you to keep a sterile field
When a physician is performing a procedure or surgery, you have to maintain a sterile field. This means once you put on sterile gloves and a sterile gown, your hands can only touch sterile objects. You can’t use your hands to touch a computer, mouse, phone, your face, or anything that hasn’t been sterilized.
I used Google Glass while performing a central line procedure. I wanted to see how easily I could use the device when I had to maintain a sterile field (I ordered a clear lens with my Glass so I could use it for procedures). When doing the procedure, I was easily able to turn the device on by nodding my head up. Another one of my biggest skepticisms of the device before I tested it was how well the microphone would work when you have a mask and cap on (reference above picture). I was shocked to realize the microphone worked great even with having extra gear on your face. I didn’t have to elevate my voice since the microphone uses the resonance from your skull to pick up audio.
I was able to nod my head up, turn on the device, say Ok Glass, and was then able to navigate through various prompts and menus hands free.
A surgeon using Glass could easily call a consult in the middle of the surgery hands free, and get a fellow specialist to offer their opinion if they encountered a new finding. The offsite surgeon would essentially be second assist since they would visualize everything in the surgeon’s field. The offsite surgeon could even visually show the surgeon pictures or demonstrate techniques through the video feed on the operating surgeon’s Glass.