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Crystal Clear Persuasion? Google Glass for Toxicology Consults

WORCESTER, MA – Not sure how to treat a potentially poisoned patient? The answer could be right in front of you.

A study published recently in the Journal of Medical Toxicology found that Google Glass, a head-mounted streaming audio/video device, can be used by emergency physicians in community or rural hospitals for bedside toxicology consults.

The investigative team, led by University of Massachusetts Medical School researchers, produced preliminary data indicating that the hands-free device can help diagnose specific poisoning agents and recommend antidotes.

"In the present era of value-based care, a toxicology service using hands-free devices, such as Google Glass, could conceivably expand its coverage area and enhance patient care, while potentially decreasing overall treatment costs," said lead author Peter R. Chai, MD, toxicology fellow at UMass Medical School. "Our work shows that the data transmitted by Google Glass can be used to supplement traditional telephone consults, validate bedside physical exams, and diagnose and manage patients."

Study authors note that the compact device has significant advantages over traditional telemedicine devices – usually large desktop or laptop computers attached to carts that are rolled from one exam room to another – which are often unsuited for a busy and crowded emergency department.

"Glass is positioned perfectly as an emergency medicine telemedical device,” Chai pointed out. “It’s small, hands free and portable, so you can bring it right to the bedside and have a real-time specialist with you when you need one.”

Physicians can use to device to stream video of an exam, take and enlarge photos and consult with remote specialists.

For the study, ED residents performed 18 toxicology consults with Google Glass, evaluating patients at bedside while a secure video feed was sent to the toxicology supervising consultant. The supervising consultant then guided the residents, using text messages displayed on the device.

During the consult, photos of medication bottles, electrocardiograms and other pertinent information was exchanged in addition to standard verbal interaction.

Not only did consulting toxicologists reported being more confident in diagnosing specific toxidromes using Google Glass but medical care also was affected in more than half of the cases – six patients were given antidotes they otherwise would not have received.

Overall, 89% of the cases using the new technology were deemed successful by the consulting toxicologist.

"Placing an expert at the virtual bedside of the patient has huge advantages," Chai said in a university press release. "It brings a specialist to patients that might not otherwise have access to that kind of expertise. Because Google Glass is relatively unobtrusive to patients, can be operated hands free and is extremely portable, it has a distinct advantage over traditional telemedicine platforms."

To make sure patient information was kept private, each device was equipped with a third-party HIPAA-complaint platform called Pristine Eyesight. Information passing through Google Glass also was encrypted for security and privacy.