Will Google Glass make it in healthcare?

By Eric Wicklund
10:33 AM
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'The value will become clearer and the potential realized.'

The lifespan of Google Glass might just be short-lived, with the technology facing an increasing amount of public criticism in recent months. But does it fare a little better in healthcare? Industry stakeholders say, "yes."

A recent online newsletter listed Google Glass as among the top 10 tech failures in 2014. And among several other publications, Time opined that it doesn't see a future for the eyewear, adding that "most of us don't want to go around town looking like Star Trek's Geordi LaForge." 

The opinion here? Don't break Glass just yet.

[See also: Google Glass links to EHR.]

Yes, the wearable technology introduced last year might be facing a public backlash – and it may not even be appropriate for consumer use at this point – but there's a very real future for Google Glass in healthcare.

At health systems like San Diego's Palomar Health and Boston's Brigham and Women's and Beth Israel Deaconess and at innovative companies like Pristine, Augmedix, Accenture and Philips, Google Glass is being teased, tossed and turned around to create a platform that allows the healthcare provider to access needed information at the point of care, communicate with colleagues, even create a real-time medical record. It may not be an ideal form factor just yet – what first-generation product is? – but that's not stopping them from working with what they have.

For example, Pristine CEO Kyle Samani said his company took Google Glass, stripped out everything related to Google and started anew. Products like Pristine EyeSight and Pristine CheckLists have been beta-tested at several noted health systems, and Samani expects the technology to only get better.

"(T)he potential is exciting," Samani said in a recent blog. "Most new form factors are met with great resistance. Almost nobody outside of Apple recognized the potential of the iPhone at launch and indeed it was highly criticized for its lack of traditional smartphone features. Many thought the iPad was doomed to fail because it was just an oversized iPod Touch."

[See also: Google Glass startup draws $8M.]

"Similarly, many don't yet see the massive potential that Google Glasses offer, but as hardware and applications evolve, the value will become clearer and the potential realized."

Rafael Grossmann, the surgeon from Bangor, Maine, who's generally credited as the first to use Google Glass during surgery, has been seeing the technology at work around the world. He's a tireless advocate of Google Glass and expects the company's next iteration to be more adaptable to healthcare.

Google Glass detractors argue that the eyeglasses will lose ground to smartwatches in the battle for public acceptance, and that may be true in consumer healthcare, but in clinical circles the opposite may hold true. Clinicians want – need – to have their hands free; they won't necessarily want to access data or communicate with colleagues via a smartphone or wristband, especially if they can do the same thing through a set of eyeglasses.

Expect to see Google Glass at this year's mHealth Summit – on a few faces as well as in several discussions and education sessions. Samani, for instance, will be part of a panel discussion at 3:45 p.m. Monday, Dec. 8, titled "Google Glass in Clinical Use," as well as a participant in the Intelligent Health Association's day-long program on Wednesday, Dec. 10, titled "Wearable Healthcare: Google Glass, Smart Watches and Beyond."

So while this technology may not be accepted in a bar or movie theater, it's certainly appropriate in the hospital in clinic. And no one will call it a failure there.

The mHealth Summit 2014 runs from Dec. 7-11 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center just outside Washington, D.C. Register here

This story first appeared in Healthcare IT News' sister publication mHealth News here

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