News Feature | June 24, 2013

Healthcare And Google Glass: Half Full Or Half Empty?

Source: Health IT Outcomes
John Oncea

By John Oncea, Digital Editorial Director

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Opinions vary from “revolutionary” to "not ready for prime time” for Google Glass – an optical head-mounted display (OHMD) that is being developed by Google and may turn healthcare on its head.

Dr. Rafael Grossmann recently shared video his blog of his use of Google Glass while performing a surgical procedure on a patient. Grossmann writes its intent was “to show that this device and its platform, are certainly intuitive tools that have a great potential in Healthcare, and specifically for surgery, could allow better intra-operative consultations, surgical mentoring and potentiate remote medical education, in a very simple way.”

iMedicalApps notes Grossmann got consent from patient before performing the placement of a PEG tube. iMedicalApps says one interesting thing Grossmann did “was try to connect the glass to the endoscopic view he was getting. This is essential for teaching and also potential intraoperative consultation. Obviously, to those of us in medicine, we know the placement of a PEG tube is extremely routine and you wouldn’t need a consultation for this while in the OR — but for more complicated operative procedures this could be very interesting.”

Grossmann’s use of Glass may be the first, but according to Manhattan Research, “Physician tablet adoption for professional purposes almost doubled since 2011, reaching 62% 2012. Furthermore, one-half of tablet-owning physicians have used their device at the point-of-care.” The thinking is healthcare may be ready for the next technological step and Glass may be it.

Writing for SFGate, Julie Bort quotes Marc Andreessen, founder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, as saying Glass is “magical” and “is going to be a game changer for certain industries like healthcare.”  Andreessen envisions doctors “dealing with wounded patients and right there in their field of vision, if they're trying to do any kind of procedure, they'll have step-by-step instructions walking them through it. That kind of thing, where we can view the Internet overlaid on the real world is transformative in a lot of different areas.”

mHIMSS contributor Mike Miliard spoke with Daniel Kraft, MD, executive director of FutureMed and the medicine track chair at Singularity University and quotes him as seeing uses such as “an anesthesiologist (pulling) up vital signs that would ordinarily be on monitors or someone on their rounds could have a patient's chart pop up." Kraft also said, when asked if Glass will be as welcomed as smartphones have been, “I'll make a prediction that it will be relatively ubiquitous in certain healthcare settings. These are all just different platforms for transmitting information, whether you're looking at your phone or a screen. Well, now we can free up our hands. Get an urgent message while you're scrubbed up or into a procedure? Now you can respond."

There are those who are less enthused about Glass, including Edward Champion, author of Thirty-Five Arguments Against Google Glass. Champion’s arguments against Glass range from the destruction of “whatever shreds of privacy we have left” to them being “remarkably easy to steal” to “making driving dangerous.” Amongst Champion’s list of all-encompassing objections are two that relate directly to healthcare:

  • we have no idea what health problems Glass will create
    • “Will Google Glass lead to an uptick in brain cancer?”
  • Glass may increase violations of doctor-patient confidentiality and attorney-client privilege
    • “Present research indicates that only 44% of healthcare providers encrypt their devices. Will doctors become hooked on Glass in the way that they are presently reliant on smartphones? And, if so, will the images and records that doctors collect be secure enough for the HHS? Can Google really be entrusted to protect all this data?”

Champion writes Glass “could pose more problems to our world than any digital invention we have seen in some time" and “will quite possibly destroy several vital qualities of life we now take for granted.”

A guest post by Dr. Paul Langevin for Venture Beat notes Glass “has the potential to greatly enhance medical practices in a number of ways” but “will remain a concept — rather than a practice — until developers gain a better understanding of the medical environment.” Langevin lists the true meaning of “hands free” and dealing with sensitive patient data two area developers need to understand before Glass can be used in an operating room.

Langevin concludes, “Google Glass has potential — but developers will need to work with physicians to build apps that can function in the clinical environment with all of its medical, biological, administrative and regulatory constraints. Otherwise, Google Glass will be just another good idea that never fulfilled its potential.”

Google is not sitting back waiting for healthcare - or any industry - to determine if Glass is a fit. Google took a proactive position and created the crowd-source campaign #IfIHadGlass which, according to Medical Daily, "delivered some fascinating ideas" that "can revolutionize your healthcare in the years to come."

Medical Daily broke potential uses into two categories - personal healthcare and providing professional healthcare. Personal healthcare included diet tracking, better cooking, and medication information while providing professional healthcare looked at "Medical uses of Google Glass features could help doctors and healthcare professionals access data in real time, easily collaborate with colleagues, and get instant feedback to improve the efficiency and quality of patient care." These uses included:

  • virtual medicine
  • diagnosing patients
  • patient education
  • home care
  • emergency medicine