Since its initial release, Google Glass has enjoyed a buffet of mixed reactions. Some Silicon Valley businesses have been less than receptive to having internet-connected cameras on patrons’ faces, but the device enjoys a primarily optimistic reception among healthcare workers and patients.
Creative application of wearable technology has gained traction in healthcare, from providing digital distraction for sick children to helping doctors better do their jobs.
Using Glass, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital allows kids unable to leave the hospital do go on virtual trips to the Houston Zoo. The program began last summer and aims to help children with illnesses experience childhood to the fullest.
The technology also has the potential for a more direct impact on patient care, giving doctors instant access to medical records and helpful information.
"Lifesaving work can be done while receiving critical data," said Dr. John Halamka, the chief information officer for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Doctors at the center no longer need to excuse themselves to leaf through documents or laptop screens; Google Glass can scan QR codes located in various departments to pull up vital data and medical history before entering a patient’s room.
The experimental program has inspired praise from doctors and garnered press for the high-profile hospital. Beth Israel’s Dr. Steven Horng made headlines when he cited Glass’s rapid data retrieval for helping him pinpoint the cause of a patient’s severe brain hemorrhage.
Halamka lauded the hospital’s initiative for its ability to thwart the introduction of gadgets that distract from engagement with the patient.
"Clinicians can focus entirely on the patient – no need to look away at an iPad or laptop," he told MassDevice.com in an email.
As clinicians speak with the patient about their condition, they can analyze new information as they learn it. Since the device is hands-free, there’s little risk of breaking scrub, Halamka added.
Other healthcare professionals have warned that eye contact and engagement while wearing Glass could still pose a problem.
"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," according to a blog post by Dr. Iltifat Husain, who writes extensively on the benefits and drawbacks of using the device in the field.
Glass is still in its adolescence, but surgeons are already wearing Glass to live-stream operations for medical students to learn from, as Chief of Trauma Dr. Pedro Guillén did for his students at the Clínica CEMTRO de Madrid.
Dr. Timothy Aungst, assistant professor at MCPHS University and editor for iMedicalapps.com, believes that Glass has the potential to excel in teaching and in streamlining at least a dozen other processes in the medical field.
"We believe that wearable computers will increase quality, safety, and efficiency, while also improving patient satisfaction because of less ‘distracted doctoring’ with handheld devices," said Dr. Halamka.
While the sustainability of wearable technology in hospitals is still uncertain, its effectiveness so far suggests that clinicians will be experimenting and innovating for years to come.