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Google Glass in Medicine: Innovative or Frightening?

With all the recent advancements in the field of technology, every major electronics company is eager to develop the “next best thing.” Currently near the front of the technology boom is Google with the development of Google Glass. Google Glass is a wearable computing device which features video recording, teleconferencing and internet capabilities in addition to a novel head-mounted display. This display is an example of the concept of augmented reality in which a wearer’s environment is supplemented by additional information generated by the device. The images and data are projected into the user’s direct line of sight as they are wearing the device. With nearly 40,000 members of Google’s explorer program, it’s apparent Google Glass has reached a variety of industries, including — perhaps controversially — the health care industry.

Hospitals and physicians’ offices have, for the purpose of decreasing medical error, invested heavily in putting computers, smartphones and other devices in the hands of their medical staff for immediate access to patient data, drug information and case studies. Some hospitals view Google Glass as a relatively low-cost and versatile innovation, much like the smartphones and tablets most current health care providers use to gain access to patient data and other medical information.

Increasing numbers of surgeons are using Google Glass to stream their operations online, display medical images in their field of view, and hold intra-operative video consultations with colleagues. Generally, the majority of handheld devices are not useful in the sterile world of surgery. But Google Glass is voice-activated and hands-free, and it may be particularly well suited for the surgical suite, where camera-guided instruments, robotics and 3D navigation systems have been commonplace for years.

Google Glass has widespread application in the health care field and could have a significant impact on the quality of care delivered in the future. With all of the potential benefits of this groundbreaking device, one wonders why Google Glass has not been introduced into more of our hospitals and medical schools. Major privacy concerns, perhaps.

The increased usage of electronic health records, email, mobile devices and social media has transformed the health care environment by providing both physicians and patients with opportunities for rapid communication and knowledge exchange. However, these technological advances require increased attention to patient privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Instant access to large amounts of protected health information demands the highest standard of network security and HIPAA training for all staff members. Physicians are responsible for protecting patients’ health information that has been stored on portable devices. Personal, residential and public wireless connections are not certified with HIPAA-compliant business associate agreements and are unsuitable for a patients’ private information. A professional and privacy-oriented approach to electronic communication online activity is imperative to maintaining public trust in physician integrity. As new technologies are integrated into health care practice, the assurance of privacy will encourage patients to continue to seek medical care.

Outside hospitals, privacy concerns have led some bars and restaurants to ban the devices. Legislators have proposed restrictions on the use of Google Glass while driving, citing concerns about distraction. Physicians are raising similar concerns. A physician wearing Glass could accidentally stream confidential medical information online and patients might not feel comfortable with their physicians wearing cameras during examinations.

Despite the upsides, there are many issues which need to be addressed before Google Glass adorns the face of every health care professional. First and foremost is the need to protect patients’ private medical information to solidify trust in the patient-physician relationship. Additionally, there are the needs to guarantee HIPAA requirements are not compromised, assess of the cost of implementation into hospitals and medical schools, and address discrepancies between what the device can do and what people expect it to do.

Branden Garcia (2 Posts)

Contributing Writer

Drexel University College of Medicine

Branden is a Class of 2017 student at Drexel University College of Medicine.