Google Glass is the tip of the iceberg for wearable technologies

As an early Google Glass explorer, I see many ways this and other wearable technologies will soon enhance patient care.

Google Glass is “smart” eyewear that offers features similar to a “smart” phone: It can take photographs, video, make phone calls, display Internet-based information. The data is transposed onto the glass lens in the wearer’s field of vision. The device is activated by voice command or a touch to the tiny computer’s control pad on the side of the frame.

Glass is one of a new category of consumer products, known as wearable technologies that are poised to revolutionize medicine.  As an orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon, I was accepted as a Google Glass explorer in 2013. In early 2014, I used the Internet-connected glasses to broadcast an ankle replacement surgery live over the Internet during an annual charitable surgery training and education meeting for orthopaedic surgeons in India.

We had 15,000 to 20,000 people watching the procedure across the globe.  I realized that Glass wasn’t a gadget: It was a tool.  I envision Google Glass being used for medical education and training. In the near future, I believe the technology will enhance patient care in the operating room, the hospital, and clinics worldwide.

Imaging results, vital signs and other test results can be displayed on the glass screen and guide surgeons through precise operations. Yet even more exciting is the possibility of teleconsultation. As an expert in ankle replacement surgery, surgeons around the world — who may not have the same experience because of the low volume of patients — may call upon me or another ankle replacement expert for guidance during a complex procedure.  A surgeon may use Google Glass to reach me or other experts, who would communicate through Google Glass. The expert would be able to see what the surgeon is doing and guide them through a challenging surgery.

Similarly, community clinics in rural or remote areas could have access to an expert medical opinion to confirm or make a difficult diagnosis. Electronic medical records could be accessed in emergency situations, when a person is brought to the emergency room, or in the hospital. When a code is activated, any nearby physician or nurse is required to run to that patient’s room.  With Google Glass, these providers can pull up critical information that could change the way you save that person’s life.

Hospitals across the country are starting to explore ways to include Google Glass in their ORs, ERs, and clinics. They are using it to understand and enhance the patient experience, and their outcomes. HIPAA compliance issues are being carefully reviewed, and the best approach to using the technology, while protecting patient privacy is being considered.

Other technologies are around the corner that will allow patients to participate in their own care and collect data about themselves.  Smart clothes can keep track of your heart rate and activity level, smart contact lenses can monitor your blood glucose every minute, and baby socks can monitor or SIDS.

Wearable technologies are powerful. With Google glass we have only begun to explore the possibilities it holds for enhancing patient care.

Selene Parekh is an associate professor of surgery, division of orthopedic surgery, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC.

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