Can Google Glass Become a Game Changer for Surgeons?

Google Glass, the wearable mobile technology from Google is creating an impact in healthcare space. The most recent development is that surgeons are experimenting with Glass to improve their efficiency. Can Google Glass become a game changer for surgeons? With a pair of eye glasses and a thumbnail-size transparent display above the right eye, and similar to a smartphone, can run applications and features camera and audio capabilities. Hands-free interactive data provided is ideal for surgeons who work in sterile environment and have to retrieve data quickly while performing surgery. The device can also be used hands-free to stream live feeds of the operation, and record and archive surgery which would also make the transcription of operative reports easier.

Google Glass

There are several reports on how Google Glass is being used in different surgical specialties such as orthopedic surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, emergency care, and more. In 2013, Dr. Pierre Theodore of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) was reported as the first surgeon to obtain permission from a local Institutional Review Board (an independent ethical review board designated to approve, monitor and review biomedical research that involves human subjects) for the use of Google Glass as an auxiliary surgical tool in the operating room. According to him, the key benefit of using Google Glass is that it makes information more accessible to surgeons, which helps in critical decision making. Earlier, surgeons needed to look at the TV screen mounted in the back of the operating room or check the office computer to see X-ray images. Glass provides them with these radiographic images right in front of their eyes. Here are some of the ways surgeons are making use of the device:

  • With this hands-free device, surgeons need not turn away from their patients during a procedure. Since it is possible to control the information displayed on the screen with voice commands and head movements, there would be no concerns about germs. The surgeon can enter into a conversation with their colleagues, specialists or students without desterilizing their hands
  • Google Glass allows surgeons to access vital sign readings, x-rays, imaging scans, operative checklists and help notes intraoperatively
  • Since the application can be controlled using action words such as ‘look up’, ‘find records’ and so on, there would be less confusion caused by a long string of words. This will reduce transcription errors substantially, which can be really helpful as, in surgery, there is no time to trace erroneous technology
  • Google Glass allows surgeons to verbally query an EHR (Electronic Health Record) system and put information into it. This will help them to pull up critical information from patient’s medical record to address a complexity during surgical procedure. For example, they can get information on which drugs the patient is allergic to in time to prevent a brain hemorrhage
  • Instead of point-to-point transmission between an in-house computer and the device, Glass relies on wireless Internet connectivity which is ideal for operating room setting
  • Glass allows surgeons to transmit real-time operation videos to their counterparts in other parts of the world

A study evaluating the clinical applicability of Google Glass in pediatric surgery reveals staffs, families and patients had responded positively to the use of Glass. However, though the study found a wide range of useful applications for Glass, it pointed our several drawbacks as well such as low-battery endurance, poor audio quality, long transmission latency with interruptions and cut-offs during videoconferencing. Although the device supports text-to-speech technology, these challenges hint that the services of transcriptionists are still important when it comes to documenting medical reports.

Privacy with Glass, particularly HIPAA compliance, is still in question. Since Glass is equipped with flash memory, users can store data on the hardware. Lack of password protection makes the device vulnerable to privacy issues. As the device is connected to the Internet, there is the risk of patient data and images being automatically uploaded to the cloud. So the surgeons need to scrub personal patient information from the images or data before use, which can be a tedious task. However, Google officials confirm that they are working on ‘lock solutions’ to determine the type of security measures that would work best for Glass to overcome privacy challenges.