The Beginning of a New Era of Healthcare
“Thump! Thump! Thump!” she can hear her heart beat faster as she runs. Her smart watch shows her heart rate increasing over time. After she comes back from her run and eats her breakfast, the same watch shows her how many calories she is consuming. With the advent of such wearable devices, she is able to constantly monitor her health.
Patient healthcare monitoring through wearable devices is booming in the life science industry with the launch of many promising innovative products and applications. Smart technology is revolutionizing the healthcare industry by providing access to real-time patient data. Consumer wearable devices like Fitbit or Apple Watch are already gaining popularity, providing information like activity levels, sleep, BMI, calories consumed, and so on. These devices are even extending their purview by providing details such as blood pressure, oxygen saturation in the blood, and stress levels. Although the wearable device industry is still in its nascent stage, it is currently estimated to be worth around $3 billion to $5 billion, and it is expected that the number of wearable devices in use will increase from 50 million in 2014 to 180 million in 2018. There are more than 50,000 applications that can be used on wearable devices, a number which has increased more than 3-fold in a span of just 3-4 years.
Smart glass technology brings the computer in front of the eyes; the hands-free, voice-activated system thus improves efficiency by allowing the user to simultaneously perform other tasks like manipulating and using cameras, screens, computers, etc.
More recently, wearable smart devices are findings their way into clinical use because of their potential benefits. Google Glass is one of these examples. Google Glass is essentially a 1.8-ounce computer that is fitted as a small glass block in a pair of eyeglass frames; the small glass block contains a voice activated computer screen. Google glass is now being used by medical professionals as a teaching tool, recording surgeries from the surgeon’s point of view and live-streaming that view to colleagues or students. Dr. Rafael J. Grossman, who performed the first surgery using Google Glass, says, “I firmly believe that telemedicine, m-Health technology, and Healthcare Social Media will, very soon, completely redefine the way in which healthcare is delivered.” Smart glass technology brings the computer in front of the eyes; the hands-free, voice-activated system thus improves efficiency by allowing the user to simultaneously perform other tasks like manipulating and using cameras, screens, computers, etc. Such wearable devices can also aid in providing clinical care from a distance. In the United States, medical advice is commonly provided through phone or e-mail when an expert opinion is needed. With the aid of Google Glass, this process can become more efficient, enabling distant doctors to receive all relevant patient information.
“For surgeons and healthcare professionals in general, when we are rounding everyday seeing patients, we have to go to a computer before or after looking at the patient. Sometimes bringing computers to the patient’s room in big carts. Imagine how the Glass would improve the workflow if you don’t have to bring it but wear it around,” says Dr. Rafael Grossman, attending surgeon at Eastern Maine Medical Center, regarding the potential applications of Google Glass. Dr. Pierre Theodore, assistant professor in UCSF School of Medicine, echoes this sentiment: “To be able to have those X-rays directly in your field without having to leave the operating room or to log on to another system elsewhere, or to turn yourself away from the patient in order to divert your attention, is very helpful in terms of maintaining your attention where it should be, which is on the patient 100% of the time.”
However, a significant concern with the use of smart glass technology is maintaining the privacy of the patient and keeping in accordance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations. For instance, using Google Glass in a clinical setting requires having proper security protocols to maintain patient privacy when the device is transmitting data. Additionally, the applications used with Google Glass will have to also uphold the security protocols and comply with HIPAA regulations. As Dr. Grossman says, “I think protecting patient’s privacy is paramount. When we started using the iPod Teletrauma project, we couldn’t do FaceTime, as it was not private. We started using Skype and then the industry provided very quickly many Apps that were designed connect with video in a private and secure way. I think the same will happen with Google Glass. Although we don’t have yet a specific app that encrypts the data to the standards that federal government needs, it’s all to the users. You can do surgeries with Glass. As long as I do not tell viewers who am I operating on, give the viewer any identifying information of the patient, showing patient’s name or face. If you use technology in a smart way, you can protect patients’ privacy.”
The advent of smart wearable devices is completely revolutionizing the healthcare industry and will continue to do so over the next few years. Twenty years from now, healthcare may be transformed yet again by new forms of technology that we are just beginning to develop today.
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