Science & Research

Researchers seek to enhance medicine with Google Glass

Study finds that Google Glass technology gives doctors chance to assess patients globally, helps office workflow

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Senior Staff Writer

Medical professionals and patients may someday be able to see through the eyes of a doctor — literally. Physicians and researchers at Rhode Island Hospital are conducting a study to test the feasibility of using Google Glass as an interface for physician consultation in an emergency department setting.

Google Glass is a wearable computer that takes pictures and videos, accesses the Internet and carries out voice commands, according to the product’s website.

Using this technology allows doctors to see live video and audio streams of a patient from anywhere in the world.

In this pilot study, emergency department physicians treating patients with dermatological issues wear Google Glass, which records video and audio that is relayed to an on-call dermatologist. This feedback allows the dermatologist to see and hear the patient in real time and provide treatment advice without being present.

“It’s pretty much like the dermatologist is in the room,” said Roger Wu, emergency medicine resident and a co-investigator of the study.

Physicians involved in the study are examining whether Google Glass is practical in this type of setting and whether patients are comfortable with the device’s use. So far, patient responses have been positive, Wu said.

“From an anecdotal perspective it sounds like patients are excited about video consultations,” he added.

Using Glass in dermatology consultations is one example of the “limitless” potential of technology in medicine, said Ismail Nabeel, assistant professor of general internal medicine at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, who is not involved in the pilot study.

Using Glass in physician consultations makes for more efficient health care, Wu said. Easy access to specialists in an emergency department could prevent misdiagnoses by general physicians.

Google Glass could also improve workflow during  a patient’s visit, said Peter Chai ’06 MD’10, emergency medicine resident and a study co-investigator. During consultations, doctors are often looking down at a computer or a piece of paper, but use of  Google Glass’s recording technology would allow the emergency physician and dermatologist to give full attention to the patient, he added.

Dermatology consultations were the physicians’ first area of choice to test Google Glass’ feasibility because it is a “visual and relatively safe specialty,” Wu said.

Rhode Island Hospital is not the only medical facility experimenting with the technology.

Nabeel and his colleagues have implemented Google Glass in operating room settings to teach medical students about orthopedic surgery. The surgeon wore the Glass to give the students a first-person video view of the surgery while narrating the process.

“That’s a unique perspective that the student has — seeing through the eyes of a surgeon and hearing him speak,” Nabeel said.

Though he said he is intrigued by the numerous applications of the technology in medicine and beyond, Nabeel said there are some necessary improvements before the device can become part of mainstream health care.

For example, because the camera sits on the right periphery of the frame of the glasses, it does not always capture full images when used up close. The camera also does not track the user’s eye movement, which is vital for its use in medicine, Nabeel said.

The Google Glass trials at Rhode Island Hospital are part of a larger group of projects in which physicians are trying to integrate technology into a medical setting, Wu said.