Smart Glasses for Doctors Must Balance Comfort with Technology

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Smart glasses for doctors are making up-close medical demonstrations possible.

For the patient’s sake, let’s hope there’s a mute button.

Poised scalpel in hand over their patient, the surgical instructors of the near future could have a crowd of hundreds of students hovering in their heads. Wearing smart glasses that act as video conferencing conduits to a classroom of medical students, they’ll have to maintain their concentration while a live audience watches on.

So, again, let’s hope there’s a mute button in case anyone has an itchy throat.

After Google Glass’s failure to inspire a social market for smart glasses, the concept is making a resurgence as a practical workplace and teaching tool. Smart glasses for doctors that give medical students an up-close, point-of-view experience of the operations they will one day perform themselves is one example of how the technology could find a second chance.

Still, the question remains: do smart glasses offer enough benefit to remote video callers to warrant the potential awkwardness they cause the wearer?

Working Wearable Tech

Developers and consumers alike seem to have decided that smart glasses aren’t for social settings. Google Glass didn’t fail because of faulty technology. It failed because it was Google Glass for doctorsintrusive and looked strange and ultimately had no overriding purpose. In other words, it didn’t solve any commercial problem. So, the technology has been assigned to more practical settings where it has a defined role to play.

Google has returned with Google Glass Enterprise, which it is offering to the technology and industrial fields as a hands-free way to give digital workers remote instruction, supervision, and on-demand resources. Microsoft is pitching its HoloLens augmented reality glasses as a digital medium so practical it doubles as safety equipment. Likewise, Toshiba’s wearable tech, the dynaEdge, has been branded a “new vision for the workplace”.

Smart glasses are now being used to display blueprints, schematics, and to involve remote experts with on-location repairs and problem-solving.

Initially, the augmented reality technology of smart glasses was supposed to overlay our real-world vision with computer-generated images of products, location information, multimedia, and social video calls. Now, it is instead being used to display blueprints, schematics, and to involve remote experts with on-location repairs and problem-solving.

One of the key beneficiaries of the change in focus is the medical field.

Smart Glasses for Doctors

Smart glasses company Vuzix has led the push into wearable medical communications that link live proceedings with remote audiences and experts. The New York-based innovators have partnered with video conferencing specialists VSee to produce a pair of glasses capable of feeding live, point-of-view video and audio back to remote audiences. The glasses can carry the same information back from the audience as well, creating genuine video calls, even though the doctor’s visual experience is through a separate video screen (projecting video data in front of the eyes of an operating surgeon is obviously potentially dangerous).

VSee, which has a long history of supplying video solutions to the medical field, supplies the HIPAA-compliant video calling software to meet government data security regulations, while Vuzix provides the augmented reality magic that can project patient vital signs, x-rays, and other time-sensitive information onto the doctor’s glasses–like a heads-up display in your car.

The potentially cumbersome nature of wearing a plastic headset may make it more reasonable to employ a simple webcam instead.

Importantly, all this information, along with the surgeon’s view of proceedings, can be beamed back to a remote watching audience of medical students. It offers future doctors an unparalleled close-up of complex operations, complete with a running dialogue from the lead surgeon and potentially even the opportunity to ask questions in real-time–if the operating surgeon can do two things at once.

While there are obvious advantages to such a close-up view of an operation, the potentially cumbersome nature of wearing a plastic headset may make it more reasonable to employ a simple webcam instead.

It is certainly a cheaper alternative.

Affordable Views with Webcams

A pair of Vuzix Blade smart glasses costs around $1,000.

A state-of-the-art 4K webcam costs around $200.

By pushing the remote view back a few feet, you can save around $800. You also remove any discomfort or distraction from the operating surgeon, and the diminished viewpoint doesn’t totally cancel out the advantages of a remote teaching environment.

Webcams are already being used to train young doctors during live operations. Medical students in Pakistan can currently watch live operations performed in operating theaters across the country. Students in the U.S., UK, and Taiwan have also used webcams to observe as specialists perform surgery in Canada.

Doctors in the U.S. are using video links, or telesurgery, to get advice from remote specialists during live operations.

There are also professional applications. Doctors in the U.S. are using video links, or telesurgery, to get advice from remote specialists during live operations. These experts have to make do with over-the-shoulder rather than point-of-view vantage points, and the surgeon has to be careful not to block the webcam, but the system offers advantages similar to a pair of smart glasses–such as instant video conferencing.

Smart glass technology offers a see-what-I-see vantage point for medical students, but it comes at a literal and figurative cost. If the surgeon feels comfortable balancing some wearable tech on their face and the price isn’t out of reach for the organization purchasing them, then it makes sense to employ smart glasses for doctors. Otherwise, taking a step back and streaming the procedure over a traditional webcam seems like it could be both a more affordable and practical solution.

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