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Leading Edge

Emergency Care Getting a Boost from Google Glass


Doctors and nurses in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Emergency Department are wearing glasses, but not your everyday reading glasses or bifocals. These are actually Google Glass.

John Halamka, MD, Chief Information Officer at BIDMC, shows off Google Glass.Over the past few months, BIDMC has been the pilot site for a new approach to access medical information about, and care for, patients.

“In the Emergency Department, we developed a model of a new information system using Google Glass — a high-tech pair of glasses that includes a video camera, video screen, speaker, microphone, touch pad, and motion sensor,” explains John Halamka, MD, Chief Information Officer at BIDMC.

In fact, Halamka and his colleagues are among the first physicians in the country to test Google Glass.

Here is how it works: when a clinician walks into an emergency department room, he or she looks at a bar code (a QR, or Quick Response, code) placed on the wall. Google Glass immediately recognizes the room and then the internal, web-based ED dashboard sends information about the patient in that room to the glasses.

The dashboard — used in technological context — organizes and presents information in a way that is easy to read as it appears in the clinician’s field of vision. The clinician can speak with the patient, examine the patient, and perform procedures while seeing problems, vital signs, lab results and more right in their glasses.

With all this information going back and forth between the ED Dashboard and the Google Glass, the first question on everyone’s mind is, how secure is it?

“We have fully integrated, within the ED Dashboard, a custom application to ensure secure communication and the same privacy safeguards as our existing web interface,” Halamka says with assurance. “All data stays within the BIDMC firewall.”

Steve Horng, an emergency medicine physician at BIDMC, uses Google Glass to scan a QR code outside a patient room in the Emergency Department.BIDMC has also designed a custom user interface to take advantage of the Glass’ unique features, such as gestures (single tap, double tap, one or two finger swipes), scrolling by looking up or down, and a camera to use QR codes.

How did clinicians respond to this new concept of wearable technology?

“Those who tried the glasses on briefly did seem impressed,” Halamka says.

Steve Horng, MD, an emergency medicine physician at BIDMC, has been using Google Glass in the Emergency Department for three months, and says the tool is fundamentally better than using tablets or smartphones. Horng thinks Google Glass’ strongest trait is the ability to access and confirm clinical information right at the patient’s bedside, which came in very useful when recently tending to a patient in a critical situation.

“Google Glass enabled me to view this patient’s allergy information and current medication regimen without having to excuse myself to log in to a computer, or even lose eye contact,” Horng says. “By having this information readily available at the bedside, we were able to quickly start appropriate treatment that if delayed, could have led to permanent disability and even death.”

Halamka notes that patients have also responded well to these technological advancements.

“Patients have been intrigued by Google Glass, but no one has expressed a concern about them,” he says. “Boston is home to many ‘techies’ and a few patients asked detailed questions about the technology.”

Halamka is planning to begin a trial of Google Glass for all providers in the Emergency Department within the next month to study patient impressions, clinician and staff impressions, and usage patterns. A little further down the road, Halamka expects Google Glass to spread to other procedure-oriented clinicians such as surgeons, endoscopists, and cardiologists, due to what he thinks are Glass’ three most important attributes.

“Google Glass has the ability to examine the patient while looking at data, avoid the infection risk of touching a device like an iPad, and be able to receive critical results without having to leave the patient bedside,” Halamka says.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted March 2014

Contact Information

Department of Emergency Medicine
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
West Campus
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
617.754.2323

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