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Google glass, a wearable computer that looks like a pair of glasses, could revolutionize medicine, especially the practice of surgery.

In December 2013, plastic surgeon Dr.  Anil Shah wore a device called Google Glass while performing rhinoplasty to repair a broken nose. In January 2014, Dr. Salene Parekh used the device while performing foot and ankle surgery at a conference for doctors from India at the United States.

Also in January 2014, Dr. Rafael Grossman, a general and trauma surgeon at Eastern Maine Medical Center (EMMC) in Bangor used the new Google device to transmit a live stream of a surgical procedure to adjust a patient's feeding tube to an iPad several miles away, although the live stream could have been sent anywhere in the world. Dr. Grossman used the device to live stream images of the patient's digestive tract that otherwise could only be seen through endoscopy in much less detail, avoiding the need to put the patient through two procedures.

What Is Google Glass?

Google Glass is a wearable computer. Mounted on the same kind of frames used for eyeglasses, the miniaturized computer has a video display in an optical head-mounted display, also known as the OHMD, just in front of the right eye. The device responds to spoken commands, and includes Bluetooth, GPS, and, of course, a microphone. It can record and send live streams of videos, and translate the user's voice into other languages. The device sends vibrations in the wearer's mastoid bone so that only the user can hear the audio.

What Are the Advantages of Google Glass in Surgery?

Early adapters of the new Google technology such as plastic surgeon Dr. Anil Shah believe that this device could revolutionize the practice of surgery. As Dr. Shah told Medical News Today, the greatest advantage of the device is that it allows the surgeon to keep an eye on the patient. Instead of glancing between a screen displaying film from an MRI or CT scan and the patient, the surgeon can have diagnostic images displayed on Google Glass while operating on the patient. 

Additionally, Google Glass eliminates the need for a "runner" between the operating room and waiting families outside. Connected to the Internet or Skype, the device enables the surgeon to speak directly to people in the waiting room. 

Google Glass also allows the surgeon to speak with colleagues during the procedure. For instance, an oncologist removing a tumor could describe the exact size and location of the tumor to other doctors for a second opinion regarding the best way to remove it. The device allows the surgone to consult the patient's medical records during the procedure. And the device could provide a permanent record of a procedure for forensice and legal purposes later.

New Privacy Concerns

Google Glass gives surgeons a tool to access the cloud while operating on a patient--but without appropriate attention to privacy settings, it could also give the cloud a tool to access a patient during surgery.

Dr. Grossman carefully set his Google account procedures to limit access to patient data during the test procedure, and avoided looking into the face of the patient, which would have been transmitted across the Internet. Grossman was careful to secure informed consent from his patient before the procedure, and sent no personal identifying information about the patient across the Internet while the procedure was being livestreamed.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Google Glass 'could transform the way surgery is performed'. Medical News Today. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/271182.php. Accessed 23 February 2014.
  • Wasik B. Why wearable tech will be as big as the smartphone. WIRED. December 17, 2013. http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2013/12/wearable-computers Accessed 23 February 2014.
  • Photo courtesy of Loic Le Meur by Wikimedia Commons : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:A_Google_Glass_wearer.jpg
  • Photo courtesy of COM SALUD Agencia de comunicación by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/com_salud/9100726234

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