Augmedix, Pristine: Glass in healthcare is stronger than ever

By Jonah Comstock
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A Glass-wearing doctor, from Augmedix's website. A Glass-wearing doctor, from Augmedix's website.

Last week, Google made a controversial announcement about Google Glass: that the Explorer program (by which consumers were able to get access to the devices) was shutting down, and Google Glass would move out of Google's experimental Google X Lab to become their own Google Team, under Nest creator Tony Fadell.

As the announcement essentially takes Glass off the market for the consumer, many have viewed it as a death knell for the device, which has always been viewed with a healthy amount of skepticism about its mass market future. But Google says they're merely closing a beta that's served its purpose in order to focus more on its Glass at Work enterprise program and on developing version 2.0 of the hardware.

Augmedix and Pristine, two of Glass at Work's enterprise partners in the healthcare field, echoed these sentiments in interviews with MobiHealthNews.

"I think the media certainly holds Google to an unfair standard," Augmedix CEO Ian Shakil said. "They’ve always called it the 'explorer' program. It’s never been widely available and for them to halt it, it’s not the same thing as an Apple product failing in the market, or even like Newton, which was properly launched. I wouldn’t call it a failure, I would just call it a beta."

Shakil added that many consumer electronics, like, notably, the tablet, started in enterprise and made their way into the hands of consumers, and he expects Glass to take the same route.

"Google is realizing they put out Glass early," said Lucas Schlager, who calls himself an evangelist at Pristine. "They feel like they’ve learned what they needed to incorporate into their next generation in terms of their hardware and software. They want to focus on that, so it’s 'Let’s really work more closely with the enterprise guys because they’re the ones that are making moves, and we’ll move back into the consumer products when we think the market’s ready.'"

Both Shakil and Schlager said they work closely with Google and have no doubts about the availability of future shipments of Glass devices for their customers.

"What we’re seeing is that the Glass team is growing significantly with a repeated emphasis on enterprise," Schlager said. "I don’t know any numbers, but I’m being introduced to new people on an almost weekly basis. My guess is some people from the consumer side are switching over and they’re just hiring more people on the enterprise side."

The two startups are even counting on a second version of the device fairly soon, although neither would speak about it in detail.

"Google knows our 2015 and beyond ramp-up plans and volume needs. So they’ve arranged for their supply chain to make sure we can service our healthcare customers," said Shakil. "And it’s not just a version 1, but next generation offerings when they’re ready. We have 100 percent assurances that we’re covered."

Augmedix works in clinics and uses Glass to provide remote medical scribes and increase doctor productivity, whereas Pristine uses Glass for realtime video consults between specialists in a hospital settings. Pristine also works with clients in life sciences, pharma and diagnostics.

For that reason, Schlager said he doesn't see Augmedix as competition, but he does see them as the only other serious player in the healthcare space for Glass. Some other companies, like Wearable Intelligence, position healthcare as one of a number of verticals their enterprise business focuses on, while others haven't raised any major funding and don't appear to have much of a market presence. Another company, Advanced Medical Applications, is listed as a Google Glass certified partner but doesn't appear to have launched its offerings yet.

Of course, if Google Glass were to be entirely shutdown, Augmedix and Pristine are both exploring other smart glasses offerings. But Shakil says right now all of Augmedix's doctors use Glass and Schlager says it's still far and away the best first generation option.

"We do work with a number of other smart glass devices," he said. "The biggest of those is probably Vuzix. We are certified Vuzix partners and work closely with their team. Vuzix just raised $25 million from Intel. Most of the rest of the space is kind of sort of vaporware still, unfortunately. It’s very hard to go to anyone and say, 'Hey, can you send me a hundred units? Very few of them can answer that question."

Shakil said his team is also in conversations with Microsoft, Epson, and Toshiba, but they either have no devices or, in Epson's case, nothing viable for the healthcare market. Overall, both Pristine and Augmedix are still bullish on Glass as an emerging technology for doctors.

"Most people in healthcare are skeptical, and rightly so," said Schlager. "Glass is really not proven, and the thing with Glass is: Smartphones are reasonably easy to understand in terms of the fundamental user experience. Glass is a totally different animal. Smart glasses aren’t worse, they’re just very different in terms of how the user perceives it. But they’re a massive opportunity. We have clients right now realizing between 3 and 700 percent ROI."

"We’re active at five mega national health systems, Dignity Health being one of them," Shakil said. "We’re active in 11 states. And the demand is really strong. Concerns around Glass, the hardware and all that, are really not a rate-limiting step for us."