UPDATED 08:35 EST / MARCH 13 2014

Doctors using Google Glass for quick patient interaction and treatment

GoogleGlass 2014 35People are still pretty wary of those wearing Google Glass in public. Some establishments have already banned the use of the device on their premises, and it’s expected that more will follow their lead to protect their patrons’ privacy as the devices become more popular.

Though Google Glass has been getting a lot of heat, doctors are coming around to the idea that it’s perfect for use in hospitals, especially during emergencies.

At Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, some doctors in the Emergency Department have been using Google Glass to access patient information faster and more efficiently, reports Ars Technica.

Dr. John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel, described how Google Glass has improved their interaction with patients. The user interface of the Google Glasses given to its doctors has been modified to leverage gestures such as tapping and swiping, head tilt to control vertical scrolling, scrolling by looking up and down, and voice commands. Information displayed on the small screen has also been simplified and re-organized to make it easier for doctors to view important data.

The device has also been modified with an external battery pack, wireless transmission power has been increased, the QR code reader has been revamped to improve application stability, and an Android status bar that shows wireless connection strength and battery power has been added.

Dr. Halamka does not see Google Glass as an iPad or desktop replacement, but something that works well when you need real-time information.

“Google Glass does not appear to be a replacement for desktop or iPad—it is a new medium best suited for retrieval of limited or summarized information,” Halamka wrote.

“Real-time updates and notifications is where Google Glass really differentiates itself. Paired with location services, the device can truly deliver actionable information to clinicians in real time.”

How it works


Beth Israel’s Emergency Department has QR codes on its wall, and so when a clinician walks into the room, Google Glass is used to scan the QR code. This allows them to see patient information in the room while conducting physical assessments, performing procedures, looking at lab results and other important information. This makes the whole process faster for both patient and doctor, as everything the doctor needs to know about the patient’s medical history is available right in front of his eyes.

One beta tester, Dr. Steve Horng, described how he was able to quickly treat a patient suffering from a head injury and unable to talk at length. The patient managed to inform the doctor that he was allergic to some blood pressure medications but he couldn’t remember which ones, though all of this was recorded in his medical files. Dr. Horng was able to quickly access the information he needed using Google Glass, and discovered that the patient was also on blood thinners that had to be reversed to prevent permanent disability or even death.  The doctor was able to start the correct blood pressure medication, reverse the effect of blood thinners, all the while staying beside the patient.

Cause for concern


Dr. Halamka stated that patients were curious about the orange Google Glass the doctors were wearing, but none of them expressed any negativity about it whilst being treated or assessed. The beta program used orange Google Glasses, so they’re easily seen by patients.

As for those concerned with the privacy of the patients, Dr. Halamka explained that the Glass they are using uses the same privacy safeguards as the hospital’s existing web interface, and that they have “replaced all the Google components on the devices so that no data travels over Google servers. All data stays within the BIDMC firewall.”

The beta program has been running for three months now and Beth Israel will soon be rolling out more Glass to other doctors who are interested in the program.

Main image courtesy of John Halamka

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