Google Glass could help surgeons spot complications sooner

By Jonah Comstock
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vitalmedicalsA new pilot study from Stanford University shows that Google Glass can help surgeons monitor patients' vital signs more closely during surgery, potentially helping them to prevent more complications. Researchers used a software called VitalStream from VitalMedicals, a startup led by a Stanford surgeon who was involved in the study.

"During conscious sedation procedures where you don’t have an anesthesiologist, it’s just you and the nurse administering the medications, it’s unfortunately very common to get so focused in on the procedure and for the nurse to get distracted with all the multitasking that is required of them that you can lose sight of the patient’s vital signs and condition," Dr. Oliver Aalami, a surgeon at Stanford Hospital and CEO of VitalMedicals, said in a video demo. "And what Google Glass provides through VitalStream is an amazing opportunity to have this information in front of your face when you need it and also when it’s critical, by getting alerts, for example when the blood pressure drops, when the oxygen saturation drops. So I see tremendous value being able to have vital signs on the Glass during procedures." 

In the study, 14 surgical residents performed simulated versions of thoracostomy tube placement and bronchoscopy surgeries. The traditional vitals sign monitor in the surgical room was present for all procedures, but half of the residents also had the vital signs streaming on a Google Glass app. Residents were given a survey about their experiences afterward.

The residents who used Glass referenced the in-room vitals monitor 88 percent less, but recognized a simulated critical drop in blood oxygenation 8.8 seconds before their control group counterparts. In the tube placement surgery, the simulated crisis was hypotension and the Glass users noted it 10.5 seconds earlier than the control group.

Sureveyed afterwards, 64 percent of participants agreed or strongly agreed that Google Glass increased their situational awareness, 86 found it helpful in monitoring vital signs, 93 percent found it easy to use, and 85 percent said it has potential to improve patient safety, according to the study abstract. According to VitalMedicals, the study is still pending publication.

This is not Stanford University's only dip into the Google Glass world. In July, the school's Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery began using software from Glass app maker CrowdOptic to help train residents to perform cardiothoracic surgery. While a resident is operating on a patient, surgeons can use the CrowdOptic software to watch the resident’s progress and send visual feedback to the resident on technique. Before using Google Glass, the company explained at the time, because views were restricted, it was difficult for surgeons to fully understand how the procedure was going from the resident’s perspective.