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Study Finds Google Glass a Viable Teletoxicology Consult Tool

Although Google Glass has been met by mixed reviews from consumers, medical professionals still have high hopes that the technology will revolutionize healthcare. In a recent study published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology, Drs. Peter Chai, Kavita Babu and Edward Boyer of UMass Medical School examined the feasibility of using head mounted devices (HMD), specifically Google Glass, as teletoxicology consult tools.

Telemedicine is particularly well-suited to the field of toxicology, as toxicologists often need to consult with doctors and patients in remote locations. “There are very few toxicologists across the United States—I think there are about 500 of us—and even fewer bedside toxicology consult services in the country,” says Dr. Chai, who along with his colleagues examined if Glass could provide an alternative to the traditional toxicology phone consultation. “A lot of our work is done through phone conversations where we rely on descriptions of patients given to us over the phone.” 

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Dr. Peter Chai of UMass Medical School led the team testing applications of Google Glass in teletoxicology consults.  |  Photo courtesy of UMass Medical School.

The team stripped the device of its native software and outfitted it with the HIPAA compliant Pristine Eyesight operating system. Emergency Medicine residents trained to use Google Glass wore the device while performing bedside examinations on 19 poisoned patients. Google Glass transmitted audio and first person video of the patient through a secure feed to remote consulting physicians, who could guide the resident by sending text messages that appeared on the Google Glass screen.

Dr. Chai and his colleagues found Google Glass to be a successful consult tool in 89% of cases. Consulting physicians reported that conducting exams with Google Glass changed the management of poisoned patients in 56 percent of cases. In six cases, the teleconference led the consulting physician to recommend a specific antidote that otherwise would not have been recommended. Doctors also reported increased confidence in their diagnoses when using Google Glass.

“It’s hard to say what part of the video consult changed management,” says Chai, although he and his colleagues found the visual component of consulting with Glass to be particularly helpful. “Glass allowed us to get beyond a verbal explanation of the physical exam,” Chai explained. “We were able to see what someone meant when they said a patient was ‘confused’ or help decrypt interesting exam findings.”  Furthermore, being virtually present aided in the process of “gathering a correct and directed history for the patient.” Glass enabled consulting physicians to guide histories and exams more effectively and interject with a secure text message if they wished the resident to ask additional questions.

There are also practical advantages to working with Google Glass as opposed to more traditional telemedicine devices. “As a standalone device it’s hands free, it’s small and unobtrusive, it integrates very well into emergency departments and emergency care when we’re comparing it to something like a big telemedicine cart that you have to roll around in a busy ED,” says Chai.

Although the study does mention some connectivity issues, only one consult was aborted when a wireless connection could not be established. Chai believes identifying Wi-Fi dead zones or areas with poor reception within in the hospital before attempting to use Google Glass can easily mitigate connectivity issues.

“Glass is probably ready for bedside use right now,” says Chai, although he acknowledges that there are limitations to what the technology can do in its current form. “What you’re getting from Glass is really a first person video consult. You’re not getting biometrics, you’re not getting integration into an EMR—some of those things may come at some point. Those are some drawbacks that can be overcome with use of other wearable devices,” says Chai. For example, Chai is currently studying the use of wrist-mounted biosensors to collect data on poisoned patients, which he believes might be usefully paired with Glass in the future.

Chai and his colleagues have plans to continue researching the use of Google Glass at the bedside and anticipate the arrival of Google Glass 2.0. “The arrival of Glass 2.0, with an improved processor, better Wi-Fi card and better video capabilities will, I think, expand the use of Glass,” says Chai.

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