With Google Glass, the doctor can see you now

ER doctors at Beth Israel hospital use Glass to connect with information and patients

As an emergency room physician rushes to a patient, he glances at a QR code by the door to the patient's room and immediately can see the man's medical history and the nurse's notes.

The information, which the doctor can see without ever looking away from the patient and may help save the patient's life, was accessed via Google Glass.

This isn't a dream scenario for doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. ER doctors there are four months into a pilot program in which they're using Google's computerized eyeglasses to help treat patients.

Physician using Google Glass
Dr. Steve Horng glances at a QR code using Google Glass to retrieve patient information at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. (Photo: Danielle Duffey/BIDMC)

Google's wearable computer, which is still in beta testing, is helping these doctors connect with their patients while accessing the information they need to treat people quickly.

"The grand challenge of health IT has always been about delivering the right information to the right person at the right time," said Dr. Steven Horng, an emergency physician and assistant director of emergency informatics at BIDMC. "A lot of our interaction is that connection and making patients feel comfortable. The more we can maintain that eye contact and that conversation, the better the patient feels. Google Glass helps us do that."

Google Glass brings the data to the doctors, so the doctors don't have to go find the data.

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said he sees a big future for wearable computing systems in the healthcare field.

"Wearables like Glass in the ER, if done correctly, could be a breakthrough for patients and hospital staff," Moorhead said. "It saves time and makes the attending doctor more focused on the patient than the computer."

BIDMC, a teaching hospital that handles three quarters of a million patient visits every year, has been running a pilot program with Google Glass since December.

The program started with two emergency room doctors sharing four pairs of the computerized eyeglasses. Last week, the hospital expanded the program to include 10 doctors.

The program next will likely expand to the cardiology and surgical groups. For the first six months or so, however, the focus is solely on the ER, said John Halamka, a physician and the CIO at BIDMC.

Halamka said 10 years ago he imagined a device that doctors could use to give them critical patient information -- medical history, X-rays, medication lists, nurses' notes, lab reports -- while they're interacting with the patient.

Before they got Google Glass, which has a small screen that sits above the user's right eye, doctors at BIDMC were using iPads. But using Apple's tablets involved some challenges. For example, doctors would occasionally forget their iPads and since they're handheld devices, the iPads had to be sanitized regularly.

Moreover, to get information from an iPad, a doctor has to look down at the screen, breaking eye contact with the patient.

"On a day-to-day basis, it's not unusual for a patient to say they don't remember the dosage of a medication or they can't remember when they had a tetanus shot," Horng told Computerworld. Without a system like Google Glass, he said, "that means we have to leave the room and look up the information when we'd really rather just keep talking to the patient and keep that conversation going. Even if there's a computer in the room, you have to turn on the computer and log in. It takes time and you often have to turn away from the patient."

For BIDMC, Google Glass is a way to better patient care, and physicians at other hospitals are interested in trying the digitized eyewear. Halamka said he receives about 20 requests a day from other healthcare organizations looking for information about BIDMC's Google Glass program.

One other healthcare provider that's using Google Glass is the UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, Calif. Surgical teams there are using Google Glass and customized apps for live streaming of audio and video to help doctors supervise surgical residents.

Dr. John Halamka, CIO for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, chats with Computerworld's Tracy Mayor about how the hospital's emergency room doctors are using Google Glass to provide better patient care.

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