The smart glasses market is predicted to grow rapidly, with two million devices shipping this year and increasing growth in coming years, according to ABI Research. While widespread consumer use may still be years away, the medical community has expressed great enthusiasm for the potential applications of new wearable computer technology, particularly focused on Google Glass.

Treating Vertigo

The majority of projects are aimed at medical professionals, but one company can actually treat patients directly with a Google Glass app. Developed by BCMC, the app provides a virtual horizon line on Glass to reduce symptoms of vertigo including spatial disorientation and motion sickness. Results have been overwhelmingly positive, with supporting data from two National Institutes of Health-backed studies.

Educational Use May Be More Hype than Reality

Video has long been used in training doctors, particularly in surgery, and some medical educators have been eager to use the video capability of Google Glass for this purpose. Enthusiasts point out that Glass both provides the doctor’s point of view and avoids adding a distracting camera operator.

However, this could be achieved as easily with a head-mounted camera that costs a tenth the price of Google Glass, which is currently available in limited releases for $1500. The technology is driving innovation, but the innovation doesn’t always require the technology. A similar case is chronic wounds care; Glass videos of wounds can be streamed to doctors, who can then determine if the patient requires treatment; again the costly device is largely unnecessary.

Instant Information for Doctors

The truly useful implementations are those that make use of the device’s screen. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a major Boston hospital associated with Harvard Medical School, is experimenting with such uses of Google Glass. Each emergency department exam room at Beth Israel now has a unique QR code; focusing the device’s camera on the code will bring up the medical records for the patient assigned to that room.

Other projects incorporate smart glasses into surgery as a tool for the surgeon. A joint project of Accenture and Philips, IntelliVue Solutions, provides patient vital signs to surgeons during procedures through a voice-activated Google Glass app. This allows the surgeon to access this information without looking up from the patient. Surgeons have expressed interest in similar apps to view MRIs and other medical images without looking away from the surgical field.

Medicine is sure to be one of the leading uses of Google Glass and other smart glasses in the near future. For the moment, developers need to focus on creating apps that are uniquely possible with smart glasses if they expect hospitals to purchase the devices. A few revolutionary apps combined with falling device prices may make smart glasses ubiquitous in medical facilities, however, opening up countless possibilities.

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