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Doctor uses Google Glass
Augmedix's Google Glass service allows doctors to verbally query an EHR system as well as put information into it.
Photo credit: Augmedix

Google Glass offers vision of wearable tech in healthcare

By Beth Kutscher
Posted: March 21, 2014 - 2:45 pm ET

Google's new wearable mobile technology, Google Glass, is making its first inroads into healthcare settings, signaling what could be the dawning of a new age of wearable computers that will spell major productivity improvements. At least that's what investors, flocking to companies involved with the wearable technology, seem to be thinking. Healthcare professionals who have tried the new technology also are enthusiastic about its possibilities.

“I actually believe wearable computers are going to be a very significant part of healthcare” in the near future, said Dr. John Halamka, chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston.

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The Google Glass technology resembles a pair of eyeglasses, without lenses, and like a smartphone can run apps and has camera and audio capabilities.

A number of companies—both startups and industry giants—are experimenting with Google Glass in the healthcare space. For example, Augmedix, which claims to be the first and largest Google Glass-related startup, said this week that it has secured $3.2 million in venture funding to aid its expansion plans. Running Augmedix's service, which is HIPAA-compliant, the Google Glass hardware allows doctors to verbally query an electronic health-record system as well as put information into it, CEO Ian Shakil said.

The technology has the advantage of being “heads-up and hands-free,” said Kathi Browne, one of the beta testers of the device and a consultant who counsels healthcare organizations on adopting innovative technology.

That means doctors don't need to turn away from their patients during an exam or procedure, and its voice activation feature eliminates some of the concerns about germs.

Companies operating in this space include Pristine, which has two offerings: its EyeSight product, which allows physicians to live-stream cases to their colleagues, and CheckLists, a patient safety tool that helps physicians cover all their bases in specific situations.

Technology giant Philips has teamed up with Accenture to allow physicians to monitor patient vital signs—and respond to changes—through the Google Glass technology.

Beth Israel Deaconess currently has four devices being used by 10 people in its emergency department. Not only is it beta-testing the technology, but it is working with Wearable Intelligence on new applications.

“It's very natural to put on a wearable computer,” said Halamka, who added that the technology weighs less than 1 pound, can be disinfected and has a battery life that lasts an entire shift. And it doesn't interfere with patient interactions.

At Beth Israel, exam rooms in the emergency department now have QR, or quick response, codes on the wall that Google Glass can read and use to automatically pull up information about the patient who's waiting there.

“As a physician and CIO, I'm very conservative about going to the next technology,” Halamka said. “So far it really seems to be, not just cool, but to meet a real need.”

At San Francisco-based Augmedix, funding from DCM and Emergence Capital Partners will be used to expand its operations as it prepares to commercialize its product this year.

The company is working with an undisclosed number of health systems to pilot the technology; Augmedix is already generating revenue but didn't reveal how much. Shakil declined to say what monthly service fee Augmedix charges, but said employing a doctor can cost around $500,000 a year with salary and overhead—while more than a third of that clinician's day is eaten up by computer time, not patient care. “We charge a tiny fraction of that,” he said.

Several systems, including one he described as a “top five,” are using the service, and have tested it with “thousands and thousands of patients” with very low error rates, he added.

“In my mind, we're really tackling one point of pain for doctors,” he said, adding that physicians can spend up to 50% of their day on a computer inputting and finding information. “We reclaim that time.”

Modifications are continuing to be made to help better integrate the device with prescription eyeglasses, for instance, and to make it truly hands-free, so doctors don't even have to touch the control pad on its side.

“You can think of this as the Palm Pilot years before the sleek iPhone came out,” Shakil said.

Follow Beth Kutscher on Twitter: @MHbkutscher

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