Picture the following scenario: You’re mid-surgery and you need some information about the procedure at hand or your patient’s medical history. You could step away from the operating table, consult images on a monitor or access the necessary data on a tablet or PC.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could simply speak your request and view the results without pausing the procedure or stepping away at all?
That’s the promise of Google Glass, the revolutionary eyewear that’s essentially a wearable computer with a camera, microphone and heads-up display. Put them on and you can not only access and display information with voice commands but you can also take pictures, record video and audio and transmit it all (via Google Hangout) in real-time to anyone with an Internet connection.
And with doctors now testing the technology, it’s worth asking if bringing Google Glass into the OR is a good idea, especially in terms of recording and posting (or streaming) videos.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” says Medical Justice CEO Jeffrey Segal, MD, JD. “It’s a tool like anything else but it does up the ante in terms of risk.”
On the one hand, recording procedures is nothing new and Google Glass can be seen as a newer, cooler tool for training new doctors and demystifying procedures.
“My father helped set up closed-circuit TV broadcasts of operations back in the late 1950s,” says plastic surgeon David B. Reath, MD, of Knoxville, Tenn. “We’ve had the ability to bring [viewers] into the OR for more than 60 years.”
But Reath is less enthusiastic about live-streaming those procedures or otherwise making them available to a larger audience for the simple reason that doing so opens yet another avenue for compromising patient privacy.
“Not everyone has the same stake as the physician does — a staffer with a vendetta or a carelessly posted video can be not only unethical but also illegal,” he says. “Patient privacy is not only a moral issue; it’s a legal one, and that’s going to be a difficult line to walk for some people.”
But even assuming you take appropriate steps to protect patient privacy, risks remain. Consider a scenario where a patient sues you for malpractice and the case ends up in front of a jury, a jury that most likely has little or no experience with the sometimes graphic nature of surgery. Imagine their response when the plaintiff’s attorney shows strategically edited clips from that Glass-enabled video.
“Most people freak out when they see blood,” says Segal. “If you’re just describing a procedure in your operative report — we encountered some bleeding, the bleeding was 350 cc’s, not unreasonable — that has a very different context than a video of blood spurting all over the place.”
Considering that Google Glass is little more than a prototype at this point, there’s no way to accurately predict how using it in the OR will play out. In some cases, it could be a boon, in others a distraction; either way, it promises to present both challenges and opportunities in terms of both providing care and protecting patient privacy.
“Net-net, you take a risk by doing it,” says Segal. “If you’re a confident individual and you’re okay with some element of risk, it’s probably a useful thing. On the other hand, if you’re risk-averse, I wouldn’t be the first one on the block to use it.”
What do you think? Do you think Google Glass belongs in the OR and would you use it if you had the chance?