In Google Glass, doctors see a wearable medical device marvel, and some concerns

A researcher demonstrates Google Glass' diagnostic capabilities.--Courtesy of UCLA

Google Glass looks to be the next big medical device to enter the operating room, if not the entire hospital, just as the iPad did. While medical administrators salivate at the time-saving possibilities the wearable, internet-connected, optical display technology promises, some surgeons are already using it on a daily basis.

The New York Times recently profiled Dr. Selene Parekh, an orthopedic surgeon at Duke Medical Center in Durham, NC, who has been wearing Glass since the company started distributing them on a very limited basis over a year ago. Parekh uses his set--which cost him and other so-called explorers $1,500--to record his surgeries. Soon, he told the Times, he hopes to stream live feeds of his operations to India to help train other orthopedic surgeons.

"In India, foot and ankle surgery is about 40 years behind where we are in the U.S.," he said in the article. "So to be able to use Glass to broadcast this and have orthopedic surgeons around the world watch and learn from expert surgeons in the U.S. would be tremendous."

Google Glass is being used to stream operations online, and doctors can float medical images in their field of view while performing surgery. They can even hold video conferences with colleagues during a surgical procedure. Software developers have begun to create new programs that project a patient's vital signs, lab results, medical histories, and surgical checklists onto the glasses.

Despite all the hoopla, there are concerns about Google Glass in the medical world. Dr. Matthew Katz, a radiation oncologist at Lowell General Hospital in Massachusetts, said in a recent blog post, "Until the FDA or research confirms its safety, Google Glass is banned from my clinic as a privacy and medical practice hazard." His primary worries about Glass-wearing doctors are patient security and physician distraction.

Certainly, no doctor or hospital administrator wants to run afoul of HIPAA laws. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in January that employees of Google's secretive X research group met with FDA staffers. At the time, the FDA confirmed but did not comment on the visit, calling it a "meet and greet." Bakul Patel, the senior policy adviser for the agency, told the Times the FDA would regulate only Glass software programs that function as medical devices just as it does for hand-held devices.

Still, Dr. Oliver Muensterer, a pediatric surgeon and the first to publish a peer-review study on the use of Google Glass in clinical medicine, has no doubts about the product's eventual widespread acceptance. "Not the current version," he told the Times. "But a version in the future that is specially made for healthcare with all the privacy, hardware and software issues worked out."

- read The New York Times article
- see The San Francisco Chronicle report
- view Dr. Katz's blog post
- visit Dr. Muensterer's study

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