The Power and Hype of Google Glass

Google Glass has been getting a lot of attention recently. I’ve seen lots of discussions about it and how it could potentially be used in healthcare in the past few months. The discussions or articles or posts can be summarized by saying that Google Glass is going to revolutionize healthcare. In fact, it’s so incredibly powerful that there are hundreds of ways it will revolutionize healthcare for patients, providers, and families. Kyle Samani wrote a great guest post for HIStalk recently that’s worth a read.

This post is probably a little late to the discussion, but I’ve struggled with my feelings about Glass. I’m a huge fan of Google Glass, I really am, but I think we’re a ways off from Glass revolutionizing healthcare, mostly because revolutionizing, or disrupting healthcare, is more than just about great technology.

On the one hand, I love the potential of Glass to enable an endless number of applications in healthcare. It’s incredibly powerful to have hands-free access to data, colleagues, image/video/voice capture, and any tool that developers port to the Glass platform. I actually believe the real success of Google Glass in the short to medium but potential even long term, will be in professional settings like healthcare. I’m sure Glass will do well in Northern California outside of professional settings, but will take a lot longer to get to the rest of the country. But healthcare seems like an ideal test bed for Glass application developers (more on that later).

On the other hand, it’s also slightly annoying for me to see people wearing Glass and to think about having a conversation with somebody wearing it. I’m sure this will change over time and as it becomes more common. I’ve written before about the ways in which phones and tablets have depersonalized and hurt our interactions and Google Glass has this same potential if it’s not used thoughtfully.

My concerns about Glass are in part based on a recent discussion I had with a doctor about it. This is anecdotal, but a few weeks ago I was speaking with a physician who was excited about Glass for his practice. He works in a high-paced specialty, so volume is king and he’s always looking for ways to be more efficient. EMRs have not been his friend.

He was so excited about Glass because he feels he will be able to look at data and findings, potentially while documenting, as the patient is talking to him. He can be doing all this without seeming to be doing something else.

I don’t really think this doctor is the norm, but it does make me worry about the potential of having pages, messages, and alerts popping into a clinician’s point of view all the time. The reality is most docs I know have work stacked up for them almost constantly and the ability to go through those on the go is always tempting.

Geez, this post really sounds like I’m hedging. I’m not trying to at all. Google Glass will have a huge impact on health in time. I think we’ll come to expect doctors and nurses, at least in certain care settings, to be wearing it all the time. We’ll also get used to seeing it and interacting with each other while wearing it, just like we’ve gotten used to talking to people holding or even looking at smartphone screens during conversations. Proper Glass etiquette will also be learned in time.

I’m not sure when exactly the tipping point is for Glass in healthcare, but my prediction is it will be about five years. If that’s realistic for a tipping point, it means we’ll be seeing a lot of Glass health applications funded and tested very quickly. These initial tests will inform future development. What I’m curious about is what  those initial successes for Glass in healthcare will be. If I was developing apps for Glass, what areas of healthcare would I be working on?

The first thing I’d do is get out and talk to a bunch of docs and nurses in different specialties and in different care settings to learn how they currently access information on the go and the hacks they use to solve access problems when scrubbed in or when otherwise unable to use a phone or computer.

Hacks don’t necessarily refer to software hacks, and in healthcare, the hacks you’ll find will be nurses (or med students) reading and responding to pages when surgeons are scrubbed in or having somebody in a trauma settings reading off reports from EMTs or having somebody scrubbed in step back and break sterile to take a picture of something during a surgical case. If you’re a doc or nurse, you live this every day, so I’d love to hear from you how you would use Glass.

These hacks are solving problems that Glass might be able to solve. The question is whether the current hacks are painful enough to justify moving to a tech-based (Glass-based) solution. In a follow-up post, I’ll explore each of the specific areas below with ideas I have for Google Glass apps.

  • EMT and emergency medicine settings
  • ICU and patient monitoring
  • High volume ambulatory practices (hands-free EMR and E-Rx)
  • Surgical settings (inclusive of anesthesia)

So what do you think? Are you a fan of Google Glass? What areas can you see it taking off in healthcare?

Travis Good is an MD/MBA involved with health IT startups. More about me.

  • Dan

    Ha, I was talking with Jonathan about this yesterday. I’m looking forward to playing around with Glass but agree it’s going to take a bit to hit any sort of adoption curve.

    Agree with the ER. I’d love to see what you could do to improve that experience/outcomes by allowing clinicians to pull back the most relevant patient data while busy stabilizing someone. Hands free chart review when time is short and hands are busy. In addition to EMT notes, immediately showing allergies, current meds, recent visits or other information that might factor into treatment decisions sounds rad. Lots of other use cases boil up quickly.

    Also cool would be coupling Glass with your rounding schedule so that you’re prepped for the next patient as you’re walking to their room/riding the elevator. Reviewing the labs that came in since your last chart review would save time and lead to a better experience for the patient.

    Who knows…new ideas abound. Regardless, its a cool new platform to play with – and one that the EMRs won’t be likely to touch…

  • Kathi Cox

    You know, it’s interesting… Studies have shown that if you have been drinking while driving your chance of having a traffic accident is 24% higher than the average person. If you are texting while you are driving a car, your chances of having a traffic accident is 2400% higher than average. Start introducing all of this constant input and distraction o someone caring for a patient, you have to wonder how much higher medical errors will be.

  • Bob C

    A simple solution to the etiquette problem is to have the screen swing away from your line of sight while engaged with someone. They will know that your attention (most of it anyway) is on them and not on the messages scrolling by on your personal screen.

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