Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) Glass recently went on sale for a single day, allowing Google to gauge market demand for its $1,500 smart glasses. As expected, its entire stock was emptied by the end of the day.
Demand among everyday consumers has been feverish, but since its introduction to developers in February 2013, Glass has also captured the imagination of the health care industry. Let's take a look at three of the most incredible ways Google Glass could change the future of medicine.
Augmented reality in surgical settings
In recent years, developers have released more augmented reality (AR) medical apps for smartphones and tablets. AR refers to the use of a device's camera, motion sensors, and wireless connections to provide a virtual overlay of the real world. Algorithms can also be used to identify object, faces, and locations.
Last August, doctors used Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad as an AR viewfinder during a liver surgery. When held up to the patient's body, a virtual 3-D model of the body appeared, revealing a map of critical structures such as blood vessels. The main drawback is that an assistant has to hold up the iPad during the surgery -- a flaw that could be easily rectified by the hands-free, voice controlled Glass.
If all surgeons were equipped with Google Glass apps that map out entire bodies, the number of surgical mistakes -- which occur at least 4,000 times annually in the U.S. -- could significantly decline.
Electronic health records and bedside care
Google Glass could also be used to organize EHRs (electronic health records).
In the past, EHRs were installed on PCs. Today, native EHR apps for iPhones and iPads, tethered to the cloud rather than desktop software, have risen in popularity thanks to the relaxation of BYOD (bring your own device) restrictions in hospitals.
In the future, these apps could appear on Glass' display instead. In addition to being able to wirelessly access patient records, Glass could be used to scan QR codes on room doors, drugs, and medical devices to instantly synchronize the information with the correct patient record.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston has been using Google Glass for those exact purposes for several months now. The hospital stated that Glass possibly saved a man's life in January, when a patient was hemorrhaging in the brain but was allergic to a certain kind of medication. The doctor looked through the medical records via Glass and found a proper treatment at a much faster rate than searching through paper or digital records.
Last October, Philips (NYSE:PHG) Healthcare and Accenture (NYSE: ACN) demonstrated how Google Glass could be used in the operating room. Accenture displayed data from Philips' IntelliVue patient monitors on Glass' display, then synchronized the patients' vitals with their EHRs. As a result, doctors could simultaneously monitor a patient's stats and pull up patient records without ever looking away from the surgery. Glass could also breathe new life into Philips' health care business -- its slowest-growing business segment that posted 4% comparable sales growth last quarter.
Automated personal health care
Health care applications of Google Glass are not only limited to hospitals. At home, Google Glass can be used to remind patients to take pills, exercise, or track behavior throughout the day to check for signs of dementia.
There are already many iOS and Android apps that perform those tasks -- MediSafe's Meds & Pills Reminder makes sure patients take their medicine, various fitness apps track a user's activities throughout the day, and various apps are recommended for elderly patients with dementia. If developers port those apps to Glass, patients will be given constant reminders via the heads-up display.
When we combine Glass' remote care possibilities with movement tracking fitness bands and EHRs, we get a partially automated system for monitoring patients. When we take that system and plug it into existing smart home technology, we get even more possibilities -- Glass could help Alzheimer's patients remember daily routines, warn diabetics about unsafe foods, or encourage people to take a walk if they remain dormant for too long.
The Foolish takeaway
Google Glass certainly opens up lots of exciting possibilities for health care, but it still faces lots of challenges -- such as privacy concerns, hospital budgets, and tighter FDA regulations on medical apps. However, investors in health care IT should keep a close eye on Google Glass, since it represents a key convergence point in health care and tech that could substantially improve the lives of patients.