Health IT

6 applications for Google Glass in healthcare (and what’s happening now)

Just about a year ago, Orlando Portale, chief innovation officer at Palomar Health, a public health district in San Diego County, was driving up the California coast to the investment summit put on by former national health IT coordinator Dr. David Brailer. “This term ‘Glassomics’ just popped into my head,” he said. Soon after, Portale […]

Just about a year ago, Orlando Portale, chief innovation officer at Palomar Health, a public health district in San Diego County, was driving up the California coast to the investment summit put on by former national health IT coordinator Dr. David Brailer.

“This term ‘Glassomics’ just popped into my head,” he said.

Soon after, Portale applied for and was granted a trademark on the name, and got Qualcomm Life to provide a grant to Glassomics, which bills itself as the world’s first incubator for healthcare applications and technology that run on wearable devices.

As the name suggests, much of the early and current work is based on Google Glass. “I wanted to do some R&D to see whether Glass could apply to healthcare and figure out what the issues were,” Portale said.

“We’re doing hardcore R&D to see whether Glass can be used by physicians in terms of treating patients,” he said in January at the Digital Health Summit at International CES in Las Vegas. At that event, he demonstrated an app that incorporates Isabel Healthcare’s diagnostic decision support technology to provide real-time differential diagnoses to clinicians wearing Google Glass at the point of care.

Portale sees six categories of Glass apps in healthcare:

  1. Differential diagnosis
  2. Video streaming of patient encounters to scribes in remote locations, who then type notes into an EHR, something that can be done with fixed cameras as well
  3. Department-specific workflow apps, such as for emergency departments to help doctors call up patient history and receive alerts to help triage and prioritize patients
  4. General viewing of vital signs, medical history and test results
  5. Video streaming of surgical procedures for training and remote consultation, as well as presentation of anesthesia information and vitals to surgeons in operating suites
  6. Medication management, such as scanning of barcodes in the pharmacy and at bedside
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Most Glassomics R&D is with Google Glass, though Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, Calif., is a testing ground for a number of new technologies, including the Sotera Wireless wristwatch-like ViSi Mobile vitals monitor and the AirStrip Technologies mobile clinical data network. Like Glassomics, both Sotera and AirStrip count Qualcomm Life as an investor.

In 2012, Palomar sold the worldwide exclusive rights to MIAA (Medical Information Anytime Anywhere), a platform Portale invented, to AirStrip. “With everything I do, I bring in Palomar as a place to conduct the research,” said Portale.

Glassomics also has experimented with smart watches. “What we’ve found is that some of the early ones are very limited,” said Portale, who is Palomar’s entrepreneur-in-residence and a lecturer at the University of California, San Diego’s Rady School of Management. He would like to see a watch with built-in Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity; current models are reliant on Bluetooth links to mobile phones.

Still, Google Glass has its faults. For one thing, it remains a beta product, released to about 8,000 “explorers” in the U.S. last year for $1,500 each. The company still has not announced a release date for its consumer version, and a secondary market has popped up. (Codes for the right to purchase Glass are going for as much $699 on eBay.)

Shortcomings include battery life, HIPAA issues and difficulty giving voice commands in noisy healthcare environments such as EDs. At least in this test phase, each Glass unit is tied to an individual, and it is difficult to register users on more than one. That could pose a problem for, say, hospital wards that share several Glass devices among whoever is on duty at a given time.

“We must understand this is the first generation, so five years from now the current device will be greatly improved upon,” Portale said.

Portale expects to see similar hardware in the near future from the likes of Epson, Sony, Apple and even Facebook, through the social network’s recent purchase of Ocular VR. He also expects Glass to get smaller.

“There’s no reason for the device to be that conspicuous,” Portale said.

It’s designed for the right side of the face, and Portale personally has vision trouble in his right eye, so he can’t actually use Glass himself unless he ties it to an Android phone or video projector.

Just like with many smartphone apps, developers for Glass are concerned about the line between off-the-shelf gadget and medical device, and the FDA clearance that may be necessary. “Many of the ideas do not need an FDA approval,” Portale said.

But some concepts he has seen add hardware to Glass or connect to a regulated device, probably necessitating 510(k) review.

“We’re at the bleeding edge,” Portale said.

Palomar was has come a long way from its start as a converted egg and poultry plant, although Portale’s approach to innovation fits in with the two founders of the healthcare system. Charlotta Baker Hintz, a nurse, and Elizabeth Martin, a dietician, left their jobs at the Anaheim Sanitarium in 1933, and used their own money to establish the hospital to serve the local farming community.