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Philips Sees Medtech Disruption in Google Glass

Google Glass is one of the newest, coolest--and most controversial--communications devices of the moment.

So it makes sense that a multinational medical equipment and services company such as Philips Healthcare would embrace Glass as a way to augment the information that its patient monitoring systems provide.

But should developers in general get hip on Glass--which is a wearable Android computer with an optical head-mounted display?

Philips is a believer in Google Glass technology.
Philips is working to integrate Google Glass with its IntelliVue monitoring platforms.

The jury is still out. Even with the hype around Philips' proof of concept for using Google Glass in an operating room setting, Philips is cautioning that it is only being used in operating room simulators for now.

It doesn't help that Google has had some public relations kerfuffles recently that include its CIO Ben Fried talking about the security risks involved when an organization uses third-party cloud-based software products--even though Google is a major provider of such products.

"Until the FDA or research confirms its safety, Google Glass is banned from my clinic as a privacy and medical practice hazard," Matthew Katz, MD, a radiation oncologist Lowell General Hospital in Massachusetts, says in a recent blog post titled "Google Glass for medicine: 4 reasons why it could be disastrous." Katz cites concerns over information privacy, potential systems hacking, and safety issues around the multitasking the device might encourage.

Some have raised worries that it might impair cognitive functioning, or potentially raise brain cancer rates among its users.

Still, the potentials seem limitless for medical device engineers. 

IBM's Watson, for example, has recently shown itself to be potentially better at diagnosing cancer than doctors. Imagine if some artificial intelligence might coach doctors or others right before their eyes through Glass? What if a medical device inside a person could "talk" to a health provider right in front of his or her eyes?

The technology could have powerful manufacturing-related applications as well. For example, Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Cos. has debuted a free Glass app for monitoring machine tools. The app couples Glass with the MTConnect standard for monitoring numerically controlled machine tools. It frees up workers from having to use laptops and smart devices.

Hear Orlando Portale, chief innovation officer at Palomar Health, discuss "Glassomics Innovation Through Collaboration" at BIOMEDevice in San Jose, CA, December 3-5.

Philips sees massive potential, Korstiaan van Wyngaarden, medical officer for advanced diagnostic imaging at Philips, explains in a posting in the LinkedIn Innovations in Health group.

"Connecting patient monitoring data to Google Glass would allow a surgeon to see patient vital signs in their Glass while keeping their hands free and their eyes on the surgery. It would also allow the seamless transfer of information for a doctor or nurse to check a patient's vital signs while he or she is elsewhere in the hospital, keeping them constantly updated about their patient's condition," van Wyngaarden says.

The Dutch multinational, which has its U.S. headquarters in Andover, MA, recently announced a proof of concept that combines Google and Philips IntelliVue Solutions technologies to provide "seamless transfer of patient vital signs into Google Glass."

Check out this Philips-produced video in which David Feinstein, MD, shows off how the technology works in an OR simulation lab:

Even before he gets to the operating room simulator, Feinstein is able to use voice commands to look up information on the imaginary patient's location, status and information right before his eyes.

While working on the patient, he can see the patient's vitals in front of him without ever having to look away from the patient to scan the monitor.

"If you have to turn away from the monitor, it makes it a little bit more difficult. If someone is that critical that you have to keep on looking, it is nice that with one glance you can find that information again," says Feinstein, an anesthesiologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

Van Wyngaarden's posting garnered plenty of positive feedback on LinkedIn.

"I think Google Glass can also be used as a training tool so if someone, say a new radiologist, was performing an examination, they can compare what they see (the patient's CT/MRI scan) and compare them with previous archived cases and results on their Google Glass (by some image comparison algorithm) which will give them more confidence in the data interpretation. It might potentially also reduce false-positive cases," says Niharika Midha, a medical devices research analyst at London-based GlobalData.

Chris Newmarker is senior editor of MPMN and Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @newmarker.

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