Google Glass Could Help Doctors View Vital Data in Emergency Rooms

Google Glass holds promise in health care for viewing emergency room dashboards and critical medical alerts.

With its Android-based OS and visual cues, the Google Glass eyewear has the potential to transform how doctors view emergency room dashboards, according to Dr. John D. Halamka, CIO of Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

Halamka has performed preliminary testing with Glass and plans to run a pilot in the medical school's emergency department later this year. He discussed Glass' possibilities in health care in a July 16 blog post.

With its use of "assistive technology," Glass could help the health care industry satisfy a Stage 2 core objective of the federal government's meaningful-use program for electronic health record (EHR) incentives, Halamka told eWEEK. WiFi geo-location features in Glass could allow a nurse to see a picture of a patient to determine who should be receiving medication.

"Could Google Glass [by] providing advice, showing you pictures, validating that you've got the right patient with the right medicine, be completely assistive? Absolutely," Halamka said.

Doctors could use the temple touch user interface to scroll through lab and radiology results, such as a patient's electrocardiogram. Google Glass could also aid clinical documentation by providing real-time video of a patient encounter and allowing doctors to record audio and visual cues.

In addition, an emergency room could make use of Glass by allowing vital signs, triage details and nursing documentation to be viewed on the wearable device. "The way we think of using it in the emergency department is, imagine you walk into a patient's room and all of the team members already have information about that patient," Halamka said.

When doctors want to look up info on a computer screen, the gloves they wear during a procedure could hold them back, Halamka noted. The Glass eyewear and verbal cues could be a solution to this problem.

"Imagine that I want to go look up something or I need a visual confirmation of something," he explained. "The challenge is you can't go touch a keyboard with a gloved hand."

Glass could also reduce the awkwardness of a PC getting in the way of a patient interaction. Glass goes even further than tablets in eliminating this barrier. "If you're wearing Google Glass, it looks a little bit strange, but the perception is that the wearer is paying complete attention to you, so there's less of a barrier there," Halamka said.

Doctors often have difficulty memorizing algorithms needed when resuscitating a patient during cardiac arrest and Glass could allow them to view this information while working on a patient.

By running Android OS, Glass can support mobile health apps directly on the device. "Because it's an Android phone without the cell, you can basically assume that anything written for an Android phone can run on Google Glass," Halamka explained.

"You've got a half HD display, you've got a microphone, you've got a bone-conduction earphone, you've got accelerometer capability and you've got touch," he noted. "Given those APIs, the sophistication of the applications is quite high."

By the end of this year, Halamka hopes to deploy a half-dozen to a dozen Glass devices in emergency rooms at BIDMC as part of the hospital's pilot, he said. "In an emergency setting, where you have to weed through vast amounts of data and take actions, [while] addressing highest priorities first, Google Glass can help turn the data into wisdom," Halamka said.