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How Google Glass Is Changing Health Care

Physicians are exploring the application of Google Glass, a new wearable device that could replace medical equipment in the operating room.

  • Google Glass - Szotek

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    Photo: IU Health

    Dr. Paul Szotek uses Google Glass to pull a patients MRI and X-ray photos into his field of view.

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    Photo: IU Health

    A view from the Google Glass: This image shows Szotek's point-of-view after pulling the patients MRI photo into the Glass.

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    Photo: IU Health

    Dr. Paul Szotek is the first in the state to use Google Glass in surgery.

While looking for normal prescription eyeglasses online, Dr. Paul Szotek stumbled across Google Glass, a new wearable technology that displays information similar to a smartphone.

Szotek applied to be a beta tester for the new device. Then he waited for 6 months.

“I figured my story wasn’t good enough,” he says. “We told them what we would like to do with it in trauma surgery, we told them what we would like to do with it in general surgery, and then ultimately last November I got an email from them and was asked to participate and I of course said yes.”

A trauma surgeon at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Szotek is the first doctor in Indiana to perform a surgery using the wearable technology.

“The Google Glass allowed us not to take our eyes off the patient and at the same time be able to view the images. So we knew it was kind of a guidance system,” Szotek says.

He successfully removed a rare type of tumor from the mid-section of a 45-year-old runner, husband and father from Avon, Ind. Google Glass allowed him to pull the patients X-ray and MRI photo into his field of view using voice commands during surgery.

“It really is the next step in the delivery of health care from the start of the experience for the patient to the end of the experience,” Szotek says.

Google Glass As A Teaching Tool

Szotek says the real potential he sees for Google Glass is in the classroom.

He says the Glass can help students see a surgery and learn how to do the procedure through the doctor’s perspective. He says using the Glass from a first-person perspective provides a view students haven’t seen before.

At IU Health Methodist Hospital, IU School of Medicine students learn in simulation rooms that feature medical equipment paired with mannequins.

With the Glass, Szotek says he is able to record a video of himself performing a procedure on a mannequin, then make that video available to students for a first-person experience.

Here’s how it works:

Another option allows students to put the Glass on, watch the video, and perform the procedure simultaneously.

Google Glass In Emergency Situations

Emerging Technology Specialist for University Information Technology Services at IU, Nitocris Perez, says Google glass can also be used as a live-feed video communication tool.

“One of the things Glass can do is you can communicate with people, basically take a video call,” Perez says, “The person at the other end gets a feed of what the person wearing Glass sees, so from that first-person perspective with the camera.”

With those capabilities, Perez says it could even be used on the scene of an accident.

“For example if they were on an emergency run, if they’re an EMT, they can have someone give them advice on the fly in this really high stress situation,” she says. “They can have a backup doctor help them, help guide them in handling the patient.”

Szotek agrees, mentioning how a physician at the hospital could utilize an on-scene camera.

“So if I’m a physician sitting back at the level one trauma center, I can actually see the accident and wreck on the scene,” he says. “I can help direct the resuscitation on the scene all the way until they get to the hospital.”

The Future Of Google Glass Lies With The FDA

Tablets and smartphones are already used in general patient care. You might have even seen one the last time you visited the doctor. But, so far, all uses of Google Glass in surgery have not been without back-up medical equipment at the ready.

Cyber security expert at IU Fred Cate says the FDA hates using ordinary purpose technologies where human contact is involved, and  the use of Google Glass in the surgery room could make a case for better defense in medical malpractice cases.

Investigators would be able to evaluate each action taken be the surgeon more closely. But, with video recording in the room, he says Google Glass raises privacy concerns.

Cate says Glass moves beyond the availability of medical records to the vulnerability of a patient lying on the opperating table being filmed, but he doesn’t believe patients will be the most concerned.

“Frankly, I don’t think patients are going to worry about this much at all. If you’re seeing a surgeon because you have a problem, you just want the problem fixed,” Cate says. “But I think this is something regulators are going to be very concerned about. What else are you filming while you’re walking around with those glasses on?”

Major medical equipment companies like Philips Healthcare are also  exploring practical applications compatible with the Glass that could replace medical equipment, making the delivery of care easier and much smoother.

Philips developed this “Proof of Concept” video that demonstrates what they believe to be the potential convergence of Google Glass and health care products:

They were able to achieve a connection that simulated the first “seamless transfer of patient vital signs into Google Glass.”

Alex Dierckman

Alex Dierckman is a reporter and anchor for WFIU/WTIU News and Indiana Newsdesk. She has been with the station since 2012. From Carmel, Indiana, Alex is excited to report and deliver the news in her home state. You can follow her on Twitter @alexdierckman.

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