Smart Glasses are the Next Frontier in Healthcare
Wearable technology is changing the long-established ways of how we gather, use and share data in our daily lives. This has triggered a new type of human-computer interaction, facilitating users to access, and share information with others seamlessly,while on the move.
In the healthcare industry wearable devices like glucose monitors, lifesaving implanted devices like pacemakers and defibrillators, sensors that monitor blood pressure and vitals to predict heart attacks, sensors that monitor activity for post-operative care, tracking medications, etc., are providing a lifesaving intimate connection between the clinician and the patient.
Clinicians can now seamlessly access real-time health data of patients who are on the move from anywhere. This is facilitating faster and better clinical decisions, resulting in improved care and quality of life for the patient.
Smart Glass technology is not new. The vision behind Google glass which was launched in 2011 was brilliant,but the product was a failure. There were issues related to health and safety, price, battery, heat generalization, language, privacy, and many more. Google Glass did not provide the augmented reality experience that was expected by customers. Instead, it was more of an extra screen displaying notifications, weather, etc.
Several global players like Microsoft, Apple, Oculus VR, Sony, Seiko Epson, Lumus, Meta, Vuzix, Recon Instruments, Google Glass, etc., are investing significantly in research and development of better products, providing a superior augmented reality experience.
With significantly fewer doctors, inadequate infrastructure, rising healthcare costs, and an increase in patients with chronic diseases, utilizing technology to monitor and treat patients more efficiently and effectively have never been more urgent in India. Smart Glasses can open a new door to many new healthcare applications that can help in addressing some of these challenges. The potential economic impact could be significant.
Here are some examples of the areas in healthcare where Smart Glasses could make an impact in India.
- Improving productivity of clinicians
There is an effort required by clinicians to manually enter patient data into EMR systems. This has partly contributed to the low adoption of EMR in the country. Smart glasses can improve productivity by automating the capture and storing of patient data into EMR systems.
For the digital transformation to succeed in India, the PHR/EHRs must be updated with patient data during outpatient and inpatient care. Outpatient care would include consultations with general physicians or specialists with an independent practice.These clinicians may perceive the manual entry of patient data into the respective PHR/EHRs as a wasteful activity. Smart glass can help in this regard by automating the data entry process.
Diagnosis and treatment of a patient from a distance mean improved access to quality care, reduced costs and wait times for patients, and a reduced risk for healthcare providers. There are several potential applications of smart glasses in telehealth.
The demands of ICU care are high requiring immediate intervention by the specialist. Tele ICU solutions can benefit from the use of smart glasses. These glasses can give a first-hand view of a patient located remotely, including clinical information relating to the patient within the field of vision for accurate remote guidance.
Telehealth solutions for Homecare, Ambulatory Care, and Emergency care can benefit from the use of smart glasses. Take the example of a cardiac patient who has undergone valve replacement surgery. A discharge kit provided to the patient comprising of a wearable device to measure vital signs, smart glass, and medication monitoring device can improve the quality of virtual consultations with support from a family member.
There is a shortage of doctors in rural India.These glasses can be used by clinicians or trained nurses at a primary care center to serve as the eyes and ears of the specialist located at a secondary or tertiary hospital. This will also improve access to quality care for patients across the country.
Due to health concerns, medical personnel will require personal protective equipment (PPE) when tending to COVID-19 patients. PPE is in short supply and adds to the cost of treatment. Smart Glasses could be vital during the current COVID-19 pandemic and in the treatment of other infectious diseases.
- Training and Education
Smart glasses can be widely used in medical education and training. When augmented with holographic images this will help provide an enriching learning experience.
This can help improve the quality of medical education in India by providing medical students virtual access to the best specialists located anywhere in the country or across the world.
Take the example of a surgeon performing a knee replacement surgery. This mostly happens in a very small cavity, and even the person standing next to the surgeon, won’t be able to see everything the surgeon is doing, because he is working in between his hands.
Given this limited field of view,imagine trying to cram fifty medical students into an operating room to watch the procedure, or for the matter of fact even ten students. It is just not effective. Using smart glasses, applications can help hundreds of students join a virtual session to get a close-up view and hear and experience the procedure.
Another application of smart glass could be remote supervision and guidance for interns during procedures or interventions. Interns can consult a specialist for advice in real-time. This willenrich the experience of the intern, and help them to gain independence and confidence earlier.
- Improving Clinical Outcomes
Smart glasses can help improve clinical outcomes. A strong network connection and a pair of smart glasses can help a clinician get a second opinion from a colleague who is not co-located.This will help improve the diagnosis and treatment of the patient.
These glasses can also function as a vehicle for seamless capture and delivery of diagnostic data for a second opinion in real-time from an artificial intelligence consultant.
Given the uneven distribution of doctors across the country, smart glasses can help improve the quality of care across the country. The applications are limitless.
There are several examples of Smart glass technology being used in healthcare. These include monitoring refugees and remote communities along Jordan/Syria border during the corona virus pandemic,daily ward rounds to monitor patients in the Neurosurgery ICU at the University of Malaya Medical Center in Malaysia,usage by midwives to connect to doctors in Congo, at the University of Louisville for telehealth delivery in nursing homes and many more.
For these devices and the related applications to gain acceptance in India, they will need to be tailored to fit the hospital workflows in the country.
Currently, smart glasses are technically classed as a telecommunications device, rather than a medical one, so they haven’t had to seek European CE approval to start being used in hospitals. However, this will change. There is a need to proactively include these devices as part of the regulatory framework in the country.
Smart glasses can help change healthcare delivery in India. As the need for on-demand diagnosis, improved productivity of clinicians, telehealth and medical training and education evolve, augmented reality devices like smart glasses will become part of the clinician’s toolkit. Pilots need to be kicked off with a sense of urgency, as the impact could be huge on the Indian healthcare system.
(Srinivas Prasad is Founder and CEO of Neusights and the views expressed in this article are his own)