Electronic Health Records

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Google Glass is making a convincing case for healthcare

By Jennifer Bresnick

All right, let’s face it.  It’s kind of hard not to make fun of the goofy look that Google Glass gives its early enthusiasts.  It’s almost as awkward as those weird guys who kept carrying around giant portable phones back in the early 90s, or those who boasted about being able to connect with other people on a strange new thing called “the world wide web.”  New innovations always provoke some skepticism and ridicule, but an increasingly large number of people in the health IT field aren’t joking about the applications of Glass to healthcare.  They’re investing and inventing instead.

Since the very first rumors of Google’s “augmented reality” glasses started circulating last year, healthcare has taken an interest.  Surgeons dreamed of having vitals and other information relayed to them without having to look up from their delicate work, and some physicians wondered if the tiny screen might be a solution for the tedious relationship they have with their EHRs and their keyboards.  Now these daydreams are becoming a reality as developers get their hands on the hardware and customers line up to make the most of this new technology.

Rock Health digital accelerator alumnus Augmedix is betting big on this blossoming interest.  The startup just announced a whopping $3.2 million in venture capital funding for its hands-free EHR interface based around the futuristic specs.  “Doctors spend a third of their day inside EHRs,” said CEO Ian Shakil.  “This is preventing them from having organic conversations with their patients.”  With plans for partnerships with big EHR vendors like Epic, Cerner, and Practice Fusion, the “Siri-like” software platform intends to be able to compose clinical notes on the fly using voice recognition, and then crunch the information in such a way that physicians can ask for key details that are presented to them using the Glass screen.

Meanwhile, OneDX is using the wearable computer to tackle radiology images.  Its optimize PACS interface allows users to quickly download imaging studies, view reports, and schedule exams for patients as part of its mobile app suite, integrating the glasses into the on-the-go software ecosystem that physicians are starting to expect.

After using Google Glass for three months during a pilot program, cardiothoracic surgeon Pierre Theodore at UCSF Medical Center found the hardware had a mix of pros and cons, he said during an interview with Fast Company, but generally found that easy access to radiology images in his direct line of sight, rather than having to look up at a screen half way across the operating theater, held promise for streamlining his activities and confirming his decisions with a patient on the table.

“Right now I have a 48-inch TV screen mounted in the back of the operating room that’s 15 feet away, and, among hospitals, that is as good as it gets,” Theodore said. “Most surgeons will tell you that there have been times when they were not able to access the radiographic images when they needed it. This could potentially compromise an operation.”  While spotty access to WiFi and a lack of hands-free commands were among the downsides of relying on the wearable tool, Theodore is optimistic that future updates could turn Glass into a valuable asset.

The technology is, of course, in its earliest days, and like many tech-toy novelties, there’s no certainty about how long it will stick around.  Google is currently trying to drum up interest for Glass as a consumer must-have rather than targeting businesses or technical applications, but healthcare has been searching for better ways to leverage EHR technology since meaningful use fueled an explosion of health IT adoption.

Tapping on keyboards and clicking mice has never been intuitive for physicians, and frustration only continues to mount as providers are forced to dig deeper into their EHRs to meet federal quality program requirements.  Could Google Glass one day be the answer physicians are looking for?




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