For clinicians, Google Glass isn't dead

Despite the ignominious end of the Explorer program, the technology will still have 'a big impact on healthcare'
By Mike Miliard
11:08 AM
Google Glass

Google drew its Glass Explorer program to a close this past week, perhaps tacitly conceding that some of the criticisms of their much-hyped wearable computer – off-putting, invasive, "far too dorky-looking for normal people to want to wear" – had some merit.

But while a cursory look at certain media reports might lead some to think Google Glass is being killed off, that's hardly the case.

There's a decent chance a consumer-focused Glass will be resurrected at some point in the future, completely revamped and in a different form factor – redressing some of the clunkier hardware and software drawbacks that had some all too happy to have fun at its expense.

[See also: Wearable tech must get smart with data]

In the meantime, commercial applications of Glass are marching onward, with scores of outside developers and Silicon Valley startups continuing to work on apps for the platform. Healthcare is one industry that stands to reap the most benefit in the months and years ahead.

"Google Glass is not a failed product; it is an incredibly successful prototype," says EHR workflow guru and social media maven Charles Webster, MD, an early Glass Explorer.

"A prototype is something you build in order to learn," he says. "In that regard, I think the Glass Explorer program, and the building of these headsets, is probably one of the most audacious examples of building a prototype to learn from it, so the eventual product is as successful as can be."

And while the Explorer program has drawn to a close, the Glass at Work initiative is just getting going, Webster points out.

"If you look at their list of certified partners, there's 10 – and five of them look like they're exclusively focused on healthcare," he says. "And if you look at the other five, at least three or four include healthcare in the topic."

One of those certified partners is San Francisco-based Augmedix, which earlier this month raked in another $16 million in venture funding for its Glass-based apps aimed at easing the sometimes contentious relationships between clinicians and their electronic health records.

[See also: Google Glass health startup rakes in $16M]

Despite the changes on the consumer side, Augmedix's growth has been "full-steam ahead" Ian Shakil, the company's CEO and co-founder.

"We've sort of seen this coming in slow motion – they've been pulling back the consumer stuff for a while," says Shakil. "This isn't a huge surprise to us, and I think in large part there's lots of stuff to celebrate. Google is continuing to pour resources and people into Glass at Work. They're actually accelerating that."

Meanwhile, Augmedix is "active and commercial in 11 states, all over the country, and people love it," he says. "Demand is growing. It's almost beginning to outstrip our ability to supply."

Part of that, he says, is rooted in the fundamental difference between consumer and clinical users of the technology.

"It's true: When you go to a bar wearing Google Glass, it was always sort of a dubious notion that people would be OK with that," says Shakil. "But in a patient/doctor environment it's a different situation."

[See also: What will Google Glass do for health?]

Augmedix works to alleviate some of the "burdensome EHR work for doctors, so they don't have to do it," he says. "They just go have normal conversations with their patients in the clinic, and from those conversations we capture structured data and put that into the EHR in real-time.

"We also push information back to the doctor – sort of providing a Siri-like experience," says Shakil. "The doctor can say, 'Show me the lab, show me the white blood cell count, and then – boom – it just shows up on his eyeball. That's what we do today: push/pull to the EHR.

"In the future, we want to get into an area we call guidance – providing doctors intelligence. Reminding them, 'This patient waited in the waiting room for an hour, you should apologize.' Or, 'You just uttered these three words, and because of that you should consider this…'"

And Shakil has no doubt there is a future for Google Glass in healthcare.

"It's just Moore's Law, over and over," he says. "You're just going to see cheaper, smaller, better ergonomics, faster processors, more and more sensors, more and more options, more and more configurations to meet every possible use case. Rinse and repeat."



[See also: Google Glass startup lands $8M]


Webster agrees. "Look at where Glass comes from: It comes out of the Google X project, the R&D end of Google. Well, what other things do they do there? They do self-driving cars that won't be available, at the earliest, for five years. It's one of those places where they're looking literally decades down the road. I think Glass is an example of that."

The technology is "going to have a big impact on healthcare," says Webster. "I'm looking forward to a version of Glass that can be literally embedded into a pair of eyeglasses. People make fun of Google Glass, but none of them deny that we will have more discreet access to data around our eyes."

Yes, the consumer-facing iteration of glass "got tied up into a bunch of political symbolism about geeks lording it over everybody else," he says. "That was unfortunate. But I think Glass is going to be back. This was a massive experiment, and whatever comes out, this year or next, is going to be so much better than Glass now is."

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