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Google Glass in healthcare? Maybe once cultural, privacy issues fixed

The Rock Health annual healthcare venture capital tech confab in San Francisco included a presentation on Google Glass’s potential as an assistive technology for surgeons and other physicians.

At first blush, it seems like an awesome idea, as documented in a Wall Street Journal blog: A doc could view a patient record, look up reference material, track research on a condition in real time, all handsfree, “The same way a driver can alternate between looking at the road and glancing in the rearview mirror.”

The whole idea of Google Glass as a healthcare tool, at this point, sounds like early stories about the iPad revolutionizing healthcare the week it was released. Many of us were skeptical about those, too. And we were wrong. We could very well be wrong being skeptical of Google Glass taking over healthcare, too. Our own Reda Chouffani sees many potential health IT applications.

But when peeling back the layers of this notion, a few things are cause for tapping the brakes:

  • The iPad had many things going for it that Google Glass doesn’t. First off, Steve Jobs was a rock star technologist, and King Midas of the personal-device market. Physicians had already embraced the iPhone in large numbers, thanks to its ease-of-use and the Epocrates app.
  • Furthermore, the shadowy Google has no such cachet; in fact consumers are wary of Google in general and many businesses are wary of Glass in particular. And then there’s this Guardian piece that quotes Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman as saying: “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”
  • Healthcare has its hands full with a lot of technology initiatives already, as the HIPAA omnibus rule is recalibrating data security practices, ICD-10 will change billing and coding practices in 2014, and meaningful use stage 2 begins in earnest next year — tripping off a whole new round of EHR upgrades.
  • Anyone wearing Google Glass is a walking HIPAA violation waiting to happen, recording protected health information left and right. Imagine a compliance officer responsible for documenting who sees what patient information, and when. Unless Google provides a means for writing HIPAA audit logs and giving CIOs the ability to turn on, turn off and wipe data from these devices, compliance officers and hospital legal departments would probably be hard-pressed to greenlight a Google Glass implementation.

Mostly, though, Silicon Valley still doesn’t quite get healthcare. Venture capitalists from that neck of the woods tend to get excited about new technologies at first, and then get impatient at the deliberate, scientific approach physicians and regulators take when evaluating their safety and efficacy in healthcare workflows.

So while this shiny bauble might be flashing brightly in today’s headlines and indeed has much potential for streamlining healthcare workflows, it has a long way to go before it enjoys widespread adoption. Google Glass’s prospects in healthcare might turn out to be just that — a flash in the pan. By the time the healthcare sector decides Google Glass is worth using, Google will have moved on to the next great thing. Google ESP or something like it.

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