Google Glass, operated by Android and developed by Google’s secret lab, Google X, is the latest development in web-based technology. Glass is essentially a wearable computer that appears as a glass frame without the lens, but has a built-in screen and camera in the upper right corner. Taking pictures, sharing live video, and turn-by-turn directions are easily available via voice command, and pairs come in a variety of colors. Although Glass is not commercially available, many users have become part of Google’s preliminary explorers for a fee of $1,500, anticipating arrival into the mainstream in 2014.
Glass users would be able to inconspicuously save conversations or record videos with the press of a button and upload them into Google’s Cloud.
One of the clearest legal implications of Google Glass is the privacy intrusion that could arise; however, these concerns may be overstated. On one hand, Glass is just an “iteration of previous technology,” according to Kim Otte, Chief Compliance Officer for Mayo Clinic. On the other, there is a colorable argument that Glass is significantly different from other modern mobile communication devices, such as smartphones.
The privacy concern with Glass is not primarily for the user, but for the unsuspecting non-user, created by its ability to surreptitiously take pictures. The conspicuous position of a smartphone alerts others that the user is taking pictures; however Glass allows users to take photos covertly. The prism technology of Glass is capable of “reading” a person’s eye movements and commands, something a smartphone cannot meaningfully replicate. Additionally, a non-user having a private conversation in a restaurant or walking on the street alongside a friend can easily have his or her conversations recorded by a passerby Glass user. Glass users would be able to inconspicuously save conversations by recording videos with the press of a button and upload them into Google’s Cloud.
In May 2013, due to heightened privacy implications, members of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus addressed a letter to Google CEO, Larry Page, inquiring into Google’s plans to incorporate privacy protections into its Glass technology. The Congressmen were specifically concerned (pdf) with the ability of Glass to use facial recognition technology to obtain private information about any individual walking on the street. In response, Susan Molinari, Google Vice President for Public Policy, noted (pdf) that Glass did not have any facial recognition capability and there was no intent to approve any third party facial recognition apps at this time. Despite Google’s efforts to assuage privacy concerns, many still are too apprehensive to use the technology, foreseeing a decrease in the public’s expectation of privacy.
Glass “could have huge implications because a doctor can use this technology remotely to spread patient care.”
Regardless of the privacy issues, Google Glass technology has the opportunity to improve education, particularly in the medical field. During a sports-related knee surgery, medical students were able to remotely observe Dr. Christopher Kaeding perform the surgery. Dr. Kaeding, Director of Sports Medicine at Ohio State University, was the first physician in the United States to use Glass while performing the surgery. Dr. Kaeding remarked that Glass “could have huge implications because a doctor can use this technology remotely to spread patient care,” and noted that it was a “privilege” to be a part of a project that could be “incorporated into the everyday care of [his] patients.” Dr. Kaeding also stated that the glasses were very “intuitive” and “fit seamlessly,” potentially making them an optimal tool for complicated medical procedures.
In addition to live streaming videos to students for educational purposes, paramedics can use Glass to stream events from an accident scene to the emergency department to prepare for treatment. “Glass can show incoming notifications to physicians of patient conditions and could enhance the vision and perception of doctors and dentists,” according to J.C. Hewitt of Forbes. Glass could also improve patient-doctor interpersonal relations, allowing doctors to address patients face to face while examining patient data. Dr. John D. Halamka, Chief Information Officer of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, noted that while wearing Glass “looks a little bit strange,” there is a “perception” that “the wearer is paying complete attention to [the patient], so there’s less of a barrier there.”
With the fast-paced setting of an emergency room, there is no way to ensure that the same nurse or physician who conversed with paramedics will be treating the patient.
Despite these benefits, using Glass to live stream an accident scene to the emergency department raises several concerns. First, with a general shortage of emergency room staff, hospitals will have to evaluate the costs associated with utilizing Glass to make a preliminary diagnosis. For instance, hospitals may need to increase emergency department staff in order to tend to patients while other staff members undergo Glass training. Additionally, hospitals will need to consider the costs of the device for each staff member. Hospitals may also incur subsequent costs in integrating current hospital systems with Glass.
Assuming that hospitals have the budget to allow dedicated staff to engage in Glass “conversations” with paramedics, there are also concerns whether Glass will reveal enough detailed information for a nurse or a physician to adequately ‘prep’ for the arrival of a patient. With the fast-paced setting of an emergency room, there is no way to ensure that the same nurse or physician who conversed with paramedics will be the same nurse or physician treating the patient. The physical presence of a patient in the hospital is needed to run x-rays, remove a bullet from a gunshot wound, or distinguish whether chest pain is an anxiety attack or a heart attack. Dr. Halamka remains positive, however: “In an emergency setting, where you have to weed through vast amounts of data and take actions . . . Google Glass can help turn the data into wisdom.”
The ability to save and record conversations in the Google Cloud, instead of being a privacy concern, could become an asset.
If Glass cannot withstand the fast pace of the ER, it may serve to save doctors time from the routine documentation of their notes with patients. Doctors can record patient conversations as well as their own observations for later evaluation. This may lead to the efficient use of paperless medical records. The ability to save and record conversations in the Google Cloud, instead of being a privacy concern, could become an asset, allowing all medical professionals involved in the patient’s treatment to access the information quickly and accurately.
While it is not exactly understood how Glass may be implemented to allow healthcare professionals to interact with each other, it may certainly serve to benefit a single healthcare professional user. Glass may be very beneficial for that physician who needs a quick resource to identify whether an itchy red bump is a spider bite or mosquito bite. Similar to Google’s “Goggles” application, which allows users to take a picture and compare it to other similar pictures on the internet, Glass could provide a second opinion or reference for diagnoses.
Glass may also be useful for the pharmacist who needs a quick resource to determine whether there are any drug interactions when filling prescriptions. Using the hands-free technology of Glass, pharmacists and physicians alike can do quick research while keeping their gloves on and maintaining a sanitary environment. Thus, Glass may provide time-efficient resources to the medical industry instead of having to search through dense material for correct information.
Regardless of whether a facility chooses to implement a Google Glass policy, medical centers will need to ensure that patient safety and informed consent remain a priority.
As Google tightens the screws and finishes the touches on Glass, the revolutionary technology made its first official commercial debut in Durham, North Carolina, on October 5, 2013. Residents were able to ask Glass team members questions and try on the wearable computer for themselves. Because of its “reputation for innovation and entrepreneurship,” consumers in the Research Triangle Park area were the first to explore the technology on Google’s nationwide Glass tour.
Despite all the benefits of Glass, the advantages of cutting-edge technology may not immunize hospitals’ legal departments from developing internal policies dealing with Glass’s inherent privacy implications. Due to the nature of sensitive patient data, medical files, and insurance information, many medical facilities may ban the use of Glass in certain situations. While some medical centers may choose to ban Glass altogether, others may be more lenient to develop filming policies in certain situations. Regardless of whether a facility chooses to implement a Google Glass policy, medical centers will need to ensure that patient safety and informed consent remain a priority.