Google Glass may find its first markets in verticals where hands-free access to information is a boon. Medicine is among the most prominent of those areas, as evidenced by the number of Glass-wearing experiments in medical practice and education that are under way.
At Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, for instance, doctors are testing the feasibility of using Google Glass in the emergency room. According to Brown University's newspaper, the Brown Daily Herald, one use case involves Glass-recording patients with dermatological issues such as burns, and then transmitting the video with audio to an on-call dermatologist.
Such a use is two-way telemedicine, but much more mobile than earlier attempts. The hospital reported that patient responses have been positive, and that it is "like the dermatologist is in the room."
Everyday ER Gear
The Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University has used Glass in operating rooms to help teach orthopedic surgery to medical students, from a first-person point-of-view. But doctors say that the headset could be more useful if it could track where the wearer is looking, and record accordingly.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston is another testing site for Glass's many medical possibilities. In one real-life case, Dr. Steven Horng was questioning a patient with bleeding in the brain who was allergic to some kinds of blood pressure drugs, but couldn't remember their names.
Instead of having to waste valuable time by finding the data through a computer screen, he simply called up the files on the eyepiece as he was treating the patient. At Beth Israel, patient records can be called up by glancing through the Glass lens at QR codes, which are posted on the doorways of patient rooms.
Because of such success stories, the hospital is expanding this week its Glass experiment to its entire emergency department for everyday use. ER doctors will routinely wear Glass as part of their regular gear.
Wearable Testing Lab
At UCLA, researchers are using Glass as a wearable testing lab. To do so, a special app visually reads lateral flow tests that use nanoparticles to detect a specific antibody, antigen or enzyme. The captured image is then sent to a secure server that analyzes the image and quickly returns the results.
The headset, currently in a trial release from Google and priced at $1,500 each, provides a clear, small screen over one eye, a video/photo camera, and a wireless connection. Users control the device through spoken commands, head movements and a small touchpad on the right side.
Medical trials are being conducted at a variety of other medical locations, including the University of California-Irvine Medical Center and the University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at industry research firm Forrester, told us that medicine "is a perfect scenario for something hands-free and information-intensive," and which can access information more easily than from a computer.
But, he noted, road bumps for medical applications include regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which have strict privacy and security requirements when it comes to medical records. Gownder said Google's announcement Monday that it is becoming more interested in the enterprise market for Glass could help the effort to meet HIPAA guidelines, since the vendor's interest in compliance is a first step.
Maine-based surgeon Dr. Rafael Grossmann described Glass's potential in medicine as "amazing."
"It's the natural evolution of the computer interface," he said, "and has the potential to transform how we gather, input and access data." This access to data, Grossmann said, could help to cut down on the hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths each year in U.S. hospitals.