Google Glass in Healthcare: Do We Really Want In-Your-Face Medicine?

Jamie Singer thumbnailYou look at Google Glass and you think The Times April Fool’s joke. You think of those pie-in-the-sky inventions wheeled out on Tomorrow’s World in the 1980s by Judith Hann (you know, the one with the perm who gave Kevin Keegan a run for his money).

Google Glass is Terminator vision. And it’s here. Now.  Like we don’t need any more distractions in our lives, Google Glass will project a tiny window of information onto the top right corner of our own, human visual display. Content is delivered as text, image, video or GPS-enabled alerts—something like this image here:


The technology, through its Star Trek-style visor design, will allow hands-free technology with POV (point of view) shooting—the sort of head-cam angles that we’re used to from a Lewis Hamilton Formula 1 helmet. Here’s a nice video showing what you might get up to with one of these devices sitting on your brow:

How has the technology world reacted? With moderate enthusiasm—the idea has been around for years and it’s clear the apparatus needs fine-tuning. Here’s a recent video review from The Guardian’s Charles Arthur:

Charles makes the very valid point that a voice-activated device will make for a very chatty society and I personally don’t know how well this will work. Does anyone actually use Siri for its intended purpose? I’ve only ever heard people talk to Siri in look-how-cool-my-phone-is conversations (“I love you, Siri”… “I hope you don’t say that to those other mobile phones, Jamie”).

However, in medicine, there’s a bit of a buzz around Google Glass. Imagine you’re a doctor examining a patient. In the corner of your field of vision, you might have: patient vitals, treatment history, a list of current medications, related images (X-rays, scans etc.) and maybe differential diagnoses. This may well be triggered by facial recognition, but Google Glass is GPS-enabled, presumably allowing different patient data to ping up in front of your eyes as you walk around the hospital. Also, if the prediction is that technology will allow MRI scans (for example) to be superimposed over a patient’s body in real time, this could be hugely beneficial for diagnosis and management, with additional benefits in the training of new practitioners.

Here’s a 30-second German video showing the potential application of the technology:

In another clip, Dr. Rafael Grossman demonstrates the use of Google Glass in an air ambulance emergency simulation, where I can imagine hands-free video conferencing could be life saving (though I can’t work out in this video why Dr. Grossman is wearing the expensive gadget and leaving his rescue team with an old-fashioned tablet to record the procedure).

For patients, the technology could offer several health benefits. Hands-free diet and exercise applications could replace our smartphone apps—visual-recognition of our meals and an in-vision calorie-in/calorie-out counters could become the norm. In our industry, I wonder if adherence to medication might improve if patients had a little flashing pill in their field of vision every day.

However, no mention of Google Glass can be had without a discussion around privacy (since you won’t know if someone’s taking a picture of you). If this issue is resolved, presumably the same issues around confidentiality will arise that currently concern picture and video taking in the medical profession. I can’t really see how a wearable device will make much difference in this field.

Additionally, if recorded surgery and other procedures becomes the norm, clinicians may face the risk of scrutiny if things go wrong, both internally, and potentially from litigious patients. Although, I’m guessing this may well have a positive impact on procedural standards.

Ultimately, this is technology that could and should make healthcare services that little bit more efficient— with budgets getting tighter by the day, will this little gadget change the face of medicine and healthcare provision for the better?

Google Glass is due to go on sale to the general public in 2014.

Here are some links to some medical Google Glass blogs:

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One Comment

  1. Thomas Serbrock
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Great post. There are definitely some very useful applications of this technology in healthcare. It will also be interesting to see the effect of when these applications get into the hands of patients!