Google Glass: A Future Vision

by Rushi Patel

It’s eight o’clock on a Saturday evening. The hospital receives a call about a serious car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The paramedics rush to the scene. There they find an unconscious six-foot five-inch, 40-year-old male pinned under a car. He seems to have a broken leg. They can not find his ID. The paramedics turn to facial recognition technology to identify the patient. They then use remote access to check for previous medical conditions. Simultaneously, a doctor at the hospital is virtually observing the scene and assists the para- medics so they can maximize the chances of saving the patient’s leg. The medical team at the hospital now has a better idea of the nature of the incident and mobilizes for surgery before the patient even arrives. Back at the scene, the patient is loaded into the ambulance. He regains consciousness but doesn’t speak English. He responds to questions in Polish, and the paramedics get a live language translation to their earpieces. When the ambulance arrives at the hospital, the patient goes directly into the operating room. During the surgery, the surgeon realigns the leg but misses an attachment. A virtual surgeon assistant informs the surgeon of his error.

This scenario may sound like something from a futuristic movie. The reality is that developments in new technology may eventually lead to its application within the medical field in scenes such as this. All this is due to a single device called Glass.

Glass isn’t your normal pair of glasses. Instead, it has built-in HD display, camera, speaker, microphone, and Wi- Fi/Bluetooth connection. The premise of Glass is that it allows users to take advantage of these smartphone-like features hands-free. The user can execute operations such as taking a picture or video, searching information on Google, or sharing live stream video, all with simple voice commands. Although these features are currently being developed for consumer friendly purposes, they have the potential to be highly advantageous to the medical community.

First introduced in June 2012 by the Project Glass team at the annual Google I/O conference in San Francisco, Glass has been described as one of Google’s newest and finest products in the technology realm. Following the announcement, Glass was made available to a limited group of developers as a preliminary study for testing the device and designing applications.

Glass could be customized for specific medical purposes and change the way medicine works in many aspects. In the opening example alone, Glass helped identify the patient, provide patient history, translate a language, provide a remote surgeon with a first person view of an accident scene, and introduce a virtual surgeon, all in the setting of emergency medicine. The technology can also be implemented in many other fields of medicine, broadly changing the way practices are run today. 

The possibilities for using Glass are only limited by the creativity of the innovators and have the potential to bring about a major change in the evolving medical field. These potential applications include, but are not limited to, helping prevent medical errors, improving efficiency and allowing the best collaboration between healthcare professionals for exceptionally high levels of care.

Considering that Glass is still in the experimental stage for non-medical purposes, it will take time before we see its impact in hospitals. The imperfections of the technology make it difficult for medical professionals to implement it just yet. As seen with iPhones, Siri, the voice command technology, often misinterprets the commands. The correction technology for these errors hasn’t reached the caliber for medical use, which will be necessary before Glass can be implemented in hospitals. In addition, specialized software that ensures a high level of patient data security, following the legal prerequisites hospitals must meet, and designed specifically for the healthcare sector will need to be developed. This kind of functional development often requires months to years for production, testing and implementation. Overcoming these barriers may take years before Glass becomes part of common medical practice. Nonetheless, at the current rate of technological development, we may see health care providers wearing Google’s Glasses within the next five to ten years.