Google Glass in the Doctor’s Office

glassThe Google Glass device, wearable technology with a head-mounted display, is generating controversy over its potential impact on society in general and healthcare in particular.  One of the entrants to the Glass Explorer program, which made the devices available to “bold, creative individuals” for testing, wrote about the possibility of “images filing directly to EMR charts and dictation on the fly all from Glass.”  Doing a quick search of a drug or disease database is another potential use for doctors, and checking for possible drug interactions would be made easier.

American physicians have demonstrated an eagerness to adopt new technology, with many using tablets and smartphones in a professional capacity.  Google anticipates that doctors may well be among the early adopters of Glass, which brings much of the same functionality of those other mobile devices, but in a hands-free and voice-controlled format.  The heads-up display could allow providers to receive and research important information while in the middle of consulting with or even performing procedures on patients.  Texas Tech University’s chief medical information officer Arun Matthews describes his hopes for Glass by saying, “I dream about technology being seamless and invisible, but constantly present, anticipating my needs with point-of-care decision support – but getting out of the way so that physicians can be physicians.”

FutureMed executive director Daniel Kraft, MD, has said after trying on the device that it “immediately had clear applications for use across medicine,” such as using the camera to share photos or video with colleagues for assistance with a diagnosis or plan, or “to pull up vital signs that would ordinarily be on monitors.”  Dr. Rafael Grossman, a trauma surgeon at Bangor’s Eastern Maine Medical Center, imagines the glasses as a common healthcare tool, worn all day long to assist with checking lab results and radiology images, ordering new tests and procedures, and updating patients’ loved ones in the waiting room (even with pictures or video).  Other physicians have discussed how integrating Glass with an electronic medical records system like Medisoft Clinical or McKesson Practice Choice would allow a nurse to scan medication and confirm the dosage and the patient.

Conversely, Missy Krasner, a former co-founder of Google Health and currently executive in residence at Morgenthaler Ventures, noted that physicians may hesitate to use the devices to record procedures because of an elevated risk of medical liability or malpractice claims, and she feels that “it’s futuristic and forward thinking – but a little early.”  There’s also the possibility that Google could abandon Glass after developers and consumers had bought in, something that has already happened with some of the Internet giant’s past services.  And privacy and security advocates are warning that improperly encrypted data or hacked devices could result in an increase in doctor-patient confidentiality violations and HIPAA violations.

With Glass not going on sale to the public before the end of this year, there is still time to come up with more innovative uses for the technology, as well as to address the potential pitfalls, before your next physical is given by a doctor wearing a computer.