Should Google Glass Be Used in the OR?

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to use Google Glass for 24 hours. It was an amazing opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.

For the past year now, Google Glass has been a buzz word and tool amongst the technology community. Google Glass is a wearable computer with a small transparent prism on the right side that can display information and notifications. It also features a touchpad on the side to navigate various screens to check email, directions, the next subway, or headlines from The New York Times. It also features a high resolution camera and microphone to take photos and videos which can be shared on Google+, Facebook, or Twitter. Though it can take videos and pictures alone, many of its features require that you use Bluetooth to connect it to your smartphone for data.

The hardware at home.

The device itself is quite elegant. Along with its sleek packaging, many of the nurses and physician assistants at the hospital thought they were an Apple product when they tried them on. The hardware is encased in soft-touch plastic which includes the battery as a counterweight. There’s a thin titanium strip that creates the arc of the glasses along with a nose pad which allow the device to rest on your face. If you’ve ever worn metal framed glasses, it will fit right at home, if a little off center due to the interface being on the right side. Within minutes of using it, I became accustomed to having a small screen floating in the upper right corner of my vision throughout the day.

The author taking his first selfie

When Google announced their explorer edition, it was hyped as the arrival of many futurists’ dreams and I myself was evangelized by it as the future of computing beyond the smartphone and tablet. Since then some interesting things have happened. First, it seems as if the product has been rejected as a consumer device. This itself isn’t too surprising. The form factor, the aesthetics, and the ever-present camera can easily make it uncomfortable to those within the sights of the hardware. In an age where privacy has become a bit of a luxury, having a camera and microphone on your face can put others a bit off guard. It doesn’t help that wearing a $1500 device on your face can be a bit daunting on the New York Subway where smartphone theft is already quite common.

However, even if Google Glass can’t be used on the street, it felt somehow at home within the aesthetics of the operating room. Its sterile white interface combined with the machinery of the OR didn’t feel out of place. Many companies have felt right at home with this too. Augmedix, Remedy, and are all examples of companies taking advantage of this experimental product to introduce cutting edge technology into the hospital.

So, when I told the surgeons and staff in the pediatric orthopedics department that I would be bringing in a pair, they were quite excited to test the possibilities of the device. As a proof of concept, we brought the device into the OR for a simple, short procedure that was already being recorded as a demonstration. Before even entering the OR, several surgeons were already coming up to me to ask to test it out, some explaining the device to their colleagues. I don’t think I’ve ever been as popular before in the hospital!

A curious resident while I was wearing Google Glass

Although the “card” interface took a while for many people to grasp, when I told them that the side of the device was a touchpad, they seemed to know how to use the device fairly quickly. In the OR, many also had questions, though most of them were about whether or not they were being recorded. In an interaction with one of the nurses and residents, they said they could see themselves being recorded through the prism, which caused some to try and avoid the camera prior to the procedure starting.

Once the procedure actually started though, most of the staff ignored the glass and focused entirely on the patient. As I started the recording, it was initially distracting seeing the footage in the corner of my eye, which might be of concern to future physicians interested in using it.

After the successful procedure, we reviewed the footage and were all impressed with the quality of the video, both in terms of resolution and audio quality. However, small head movements causes huge disturbances and some people felt a bit dizzy watching it for more than a few moments, which could make future use of Google Glass in education a bit more difficult. But surgeons were already proposing use cases, including allowing residents to use Google Glass during procedures and having the attendings coach them from their office using video conferencing, which is built into the Glass with support from Google Hangouts.

However, that’s where the limitations of Google Glass starts. Although the procedure took less than an hour, the hardware itself was only able to support 30 minutes of recording before a low battery warning started. Conversations with others, including the CEO of mentioned that smart usage, software, and a battery pack could increase battery life, but the idea of connecting an extra battery pack to the frames seems like it would ruin the design and their flexibility. Furthermore, smart usage in a surgery would be difficult especially if one was required to use the video conferencing ability for five to seven hours, which isn’t unheard of in the field.

Flickr | Daniel Novta

Flickr | Daniel Novta

Sure, Google Glass is still only for developers, and we still have no idea what a consumer product would look like, but for now, Google Glass is still an experiment and although it was fun to use it for 24 hours, I wouldn’t recommend that surgeons or medical students race to drop a $1500 (more if you need prescription lenses) to get their hands on the latest technology. We still aren’t sure how useful this will be in medicine or if it will make care better and until Google finalizes this product, it will just be another cool toy to play around with in the OR.



Featured image from Flickr | Giuseppe Constantino
25646 Total Views 10 Views Today

Kevin Wang, "Almost" MD

Kevin Wang is a quality and safety fellow at NYP-Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York. He completed his his BA in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and is currently applying to medical school. He is also an aspiring entrepreneur and consultant at the Nyes Institute. Follow him @kvnwang.