Google Glass Helping ER Doctors in Boston Hospital

Glass is making it easier for emergency room doctors to focus directly on patients and improve their care.

Google Glass is helping emergency room doctors in a busy Boston hospital get patient information much faster, while also allowing doctors to focus more on their patients instead of on computers.

That's one of the biggest benefits of a Glass pilot project being conducted since December 2013 at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where four Glass devices are being shared by 10 ER doctors to provide care to their patients in an often-chaotic metropolitan hospital emergency room.

"For us, getting the right information at the right time has always been the challenge," Dr. Steven Horng, an ER doctor at the hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, told eWEEK. "We run around a lot in the emergency department. We get interrupted all the time, and that's kind of part of our job. Every time that you go to a computer, you go through interruptions."

But by using Glass while treating patients, doctors can be freed up from the distraction of a nearby computer terminal, said Horng, which allows them to truly focus on their patients and give more personalized care. That's possible because the hospital's patient medical records have been stored electronically since 1997 and can be accessed directly using Glass and a special, secure app that was created for the hospital by a company called Wearable Intelligence. The hospital's IT staff built the back end for the app.

"Being able to access [patient] information very quickly and not have to access a computer is very helpful," he said. "Being able to simplify the workflow is fantastic. Now, without having to look it up, the information is delivered to Glass as needed." By using Glass, doctors essentially have a heads-up display that can access patient information even as the doctor talks to a patient.

The eyewear-mounted computers make patient care even easier than the Apple iPads that were introduced in the ER back in April 2010, said Horng. With the iPads, doctors and nurses still have to look away from their patients to consult the devices.

ER doctors can also pair the Glass devices with iPhones using Bluetooth so they can speak hands-free with other medical staff members in the hospital as they treat their patients, and doctors can maintain sterile conditions because they don't have to touch the Glass devices to use them, he said.

"When we started out on this pilot, the use cases we had in the beginning were good use cases, but we quickly found out about other uses that we didn't expect," said Horng. Those include the ability to get a visual display of the list of upcoming patients to be seen, as well as updates on when X-rays, CT scans and other imaging results are available for diagnostic purposes. "A lot of these are really small things, but small things add up," he said. "It gives us more situational awareness. When you can take care of 50 or 60 patients in a shift, you have to keep track of it all. This really helps see things as soon as they come back."

More such features will come in the future as the hospital works to develop additional rich apps that will further improve patient care, efficiency and organization in the ER, he said. "That's really where we see the real promise of wearable technology," said Horng. "To push notifications, reminders and checklists [to doctors] to really help in our mission—and not just to improve workflows—but really as an indispensable tool to improve how we practice medicine. It's the tip of the iceberg for what we are working on."