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July 01, 2014
Google Smash: Cutting Edge or Techno-fantasy?

Doctor visits today are a far cry from what they used to be more than a decade ago. We have all experienced the rather sudden shift in our physicians’ friendly, concerned eye contact to the annoying laptop distraction and keyboard clicks. “Hey Doc, I’m over here!” Mounting government regulations and the advent of electronic health records has forced doctors into sharing their patient time with the more tedious, secretary-like duties of documentation and data entry. Do we really want our highly skilled and educated healthcare providers “playing secretary?” Ironically, in large part, the electronic age has led to these changes and could quite possibly lead us right back to a more personal and human doctor-patient experience. Could Google Glass be the magic rabbit pulled from the hat (or surgical cap)? In short, the answer is a big, resounding maybe.

Google Glass has no doubt become the latest and “coolest” of electronic gadgets recently made available to the general public on May 15, 2014, carrying a sticker price of $1500. It will certainly revolutionize the way in which we see, record, experience, and share our daily lives. Google Glass is essentially a hands-free, wearable, voice-commanded computer. Developed by Google, this nifty headset appears to be the ultimate way in which to stay connected, at least electronically speaking, and its potential uses are truly nothing short of daunting. Tech experts estimate a 6 billion dollar smart glass market by 2016. [1] One might, for good reason, be a bit skeptical as to its actual mass utility. After all, do most of us really even want to be electronically connected at that level? Perhaps not, but ask any busy doctor if they would be interested in finding a way to increase time spent in patient care while at the same time decreasing the time needed to accurately document their work, and the need for change is a no-brainer. This is already taking place as seen, for example, by the dramatic increase in the use of medical scribes whose primary role is to shadow a doctor in his or her daily practice documenting patient encounters, thus allowing the doctor time to see more patients and to actually practice medicine.

So how might Google Glass revolutionize modern medical practice? There are certainly some potential advantages foreseen and already taking place by use of this technology. However, one must exercise caution when any new “toy” hits the market which may not yet be ready for prime time in a field as complex as medicine. Several medical schools and institutions around the U.S. have already launched the use of Google Glass especially in educational settings. For example, smart glasses are starting to be used during surgical procedures as a teaching tool for students anywhere on the planet connected to the internet. [2] Google Glass could potentially save lives by saving time in urgent clinical situations where, for example, EMT staff on an ambulance racing to the ED could get “real time” support and guidance by simply streaming live video and audio directly to the waiting ER physician. [3] Additionally, doctors could instantly access patient drug information and medical history as they perform an examination all the while maintaining focus on the patient, and then could later educate the patient regarding the diagnostic results. [4] Google Glass could provide a boost to the field of virtual medicine as doctors could easily check in on patients in remote locations or who might otherwise be unable to geographically access their healthcare provider. [4] Obviously, documentation would be possible in real time where conversations with patients, assessments and treatment plans could be transcribed remotely by “telescribes” in a two-way, interactive fashion, thus saving the physician enormous time and the potential for “recall error” by eliminating the need for post-encounter dictation. [4]

On the surface all of this seems like the perfect solution to a few of the major obstacles facing physicians in their daily care of patients in today’s world of medicine. Who would argue with the advantages of increased patient time, increased efficiency, reduction of medical errors, and a new state of the art method for training doctors? There are issues of privacy and security that have yet to be adequately addressed, HIPAA compliance concerns, relatively short battery life (depending on how it’s used), eye strain and wearer discomfort, lack of adjustments, difficulty in its use over regular glasses, and the relative lack of medically useful Google apps. [5,6] The take home message here is that while Google Glass is most definitely “way cool”, not terribly costly in its present form, and possesses tremendous utility potential, there is still some needed tweaking in making it fully adaptable for use in medicine. Perhaps this new toy needs some growing up to do before becoming the tool we are hoping that will revolutionize the way in which doctors practice medicine.

References:

  1. http://www.fiercemobilehealthcare.com/story/wearable-device-market-reach-15b-2014/2012-11-05#ixzz2Cm9fnBYa
  2. http://www.fiercehealthit.com/story/providers-navigate-potential-uses-google-glass-healthcare/2013-06-17
  3. http://www.firerescue1.com/fire-products/technology/articles/1461482-Google-Glass-4-good-uses-in-firefighting/
  4. http://www.medicaldaily.com/articles/14237/20130312/google-glass-features-revolutionize-medical-personal-healthcare.htm
  5. http://www.geek.com/review/google-glass-what-works-what-doesnt-and-what-its-like-to-use-all-day-1556504/
  6. http://www.engadget.com/2013/04/30/google-glass-review/