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How a Boston hospital is using Google Glass to save lives

Al Sacco | May 8, 2014
When Glass was first unveiled at Google's annual I/O developer conference in the summer of 2012, it was seen mostly as an expensive novelty that would be available to only a select few "Explorers," at least for a few years. Today, the device is still not widely available, and it still costs $1,500, but it's proving to be much more than novel to some businesses and organizations. (Glass isn't the only form of wearable tech making waves in the enterprise; read "Wearables Offer Promise (and Peril) for the Enterprise" for details.)

BIDMC began its Glass pilot on Dec. 17, 2013, with a set of four emergency physicians serving as testers. In January, 10 more BIDMC staffers started using Glass and sharing feedback.

Halamka has been writing about his experience with Glass on his personal blog since last summer. But he mentioned a few interesting things yesterday that I hadn't heard before.

For example, when you set up a new Glass device and link to other Google services, such as Gmail, Google+ and Google Maps, you agree to Google's terms of service. This can raise privacy concerns, especially if the device is being used by enterprises or in secure environments such as hospitals. (I'm dealing with a unique Glass-related privacy issue right now.)

Halamka and BIDMC dealt with the privacy implications by wiping out the Google software completely.

"There is no Google software on the 'BIDMC-branded' Google Glass," Halamka said.

Halamka and his team worked with San-Francisco-based Wearable Intelligence to come up with a custom software interface and feature set. It only connects to the hospital's internal, firewall-protected Wi-Fi network.

From an April 2014 blog post:

"Wearable Intelligence has designed a custom user interface to take advantage of the Glass unique features such as gestures (single tap, double tap, 1- and 2-finger swipes, etc.), scrolling by looking up/down, camera to use QR codes, and voice commands. Information displays also needed to be simplified and re-organized.

"We implemented real-time voice dictation of pages to staff members to facilitate communication among clinicians.

"After several months of testing, we have deployed the product to clinical providers in the ED [emergency department] and are completing the first IRB [Institutional Review Board] approved study (to our knowledge) of the technology's impact on clinical medicine."

Glass and other wearables offer clear advantages over smartphones and tablets, according to Halamka.

"I don't have to grab the iPhone, I don't have to worry about infection spreading, it gives me alerts, [and when] I'm in the middle of one task, I can see other team member messages," he said. "I can collaborate with other doctors. This all makes good sense."

Of course, Halamka has noticed room for improvement during his time with Glass, including the fact that the screen resolution of the tiny display is relatively low. (Glass display resolution is 640x360 pixels, far less than full HD.) But he also notes that most of the uses at BIDMC don't really require HD resolution.

Halamka thinks the device is too expensive for mass consumption but predicts the price of Glass will drastically decrease in the not-too-distant future, making it much more affordable. (He paid for his own device; BIDMC did not shell out the $1,500 for his Glass.)


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