Frothy times for Google Glass in healthcare

By Brian Dolan
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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsGoogle Glass is the highest profile wearable device right now. While it exists and thousands of beta testers have prototype versions of it, it's not commercially available yet. What's striking about the current Google Glass conversation -- especially in healthcare -- is that so little of it is critical. Even the iPad at launch stirred emotions among physicians and health IT types who were quick to list off its shortcomings.

Maybe it's harder to find faults with a device as novel as Google Glass. Maybe Google's brilliant PR campaign, which distributed the device to influential types who were willing to post promotional tweets and notes on social media sites to win the Google Glass lottery, has been effective at keeping the reviews overwhelmingly positive so far.

Of course, it could be that many in healthcare don't yet take Google Glass seriously enough to offer up criticism. It was clear from the very beginning that the iPad threatened "medical grade" tablets and the standard COW (computers on wheels) set-up from the minute Steve Jobs brought it out on stage. At first blush it's tough to say what Glass really threatens to disrupt in healthcare. It is clear, however, that many in healthcare are very excited to find out.

Already at least three surgeons have worn their Google Glass prototypes during surgeries. The first widely reported Google Glass streamed surgery came out of Spain. Stateside, one physician live streamed a surgery (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy) using Google Glass. Around the same time, another surgeon used it to live stream an orthopedic surgery so medical students could remotely follow along from his point of view. So far, Glass has been found to be an expensive but helpful, head-mounted camera.

A handful of health startups are already working to add more value for surgeon fans of Google Glass. One, called Pristine, is already working to develop apps for clinicians to use during surgery and in other clinical settings. Pristine's founders contend that Google Glass is much more likely to succeed as an enterprise device than a consumer one. (The initial $1,500 pricetag will certainly keep many potential early adopter consumers away.) Another startup, Augmedix, recently entered digital health accelerator's Rock Health's latest class of startups to develop a business around its plans for Google Glass medical apps.

Most recently Qualcomm Life announced that it had teamed up with San Diego area healthcare system Palomar Health to create an incubator dedicated to discovering how wearable computing devices like Google Glass could benefit healthcare. The incubator is called Glassomics -- an obvious reference to Google Glass.

Influential healthcare CIO Dr. John D. Halamka recently penned a list of ways that Google Glass could help clinicians. It included: meeting meaningful use stage 2 requirements, clinical documentation, emergency department dashboards, decision support, as well as alerts and reminders.

"Just as the iPad has become the chosen form factor for clinicians today," he writes, "I can definitely see a day when computing devices are more integrated into the clothing or body of the clinician."

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