A user survey asking nine plastic surgery physicians and residents about the applications of Google Glass in the operating room reveals the Glass is comfortable and satisfying to wear during surgery, but there are weaknesses, including a tendency for the device to be distracting.
Researchers surveyed residents and attending physicians in the department of plastic surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, DC, from January to July 2015, asking about the technology’s ease of use, quality of images, gaze disruption and distraction during surgery. The results were published July 2016 in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
Among the potential benefits of Google Glass in surgery is that it allows users to capture intraoperative images, without using their hands and, instead, by using their voices or winking. Concerns with the technology include the potential for operator distraction and gaze disruption.
Google Glass Explorer (the program to test the device) removed the technology from the consumer market January 2015, during the study in plastic surgery. Despite that, the study’s authors write that Google Glass continues to rise in popularity in medicine and other professional fields.
Study author Jeremy C. Sinkin, M.D., who was chief resident in plastic and reconstructive surgery at Georgetown University Hospital during the study and now is a fellow in reconstructive microsurgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, tells Cosmetic Surgery Times that the study’s goal was to assess surgeon comfort using Google Glass in the OR for some of its more basic functions.
“The device is a unique piece of technology that may have the potential to become fully integrated into a surgical practice in the future, but prior to its widespread adoption, we wanted to get feedback from other plastic surgeons,” Dr. Sinkin says. “Specifically, we asked surgeons to wear the device for the length of their surgeries and take pictures [and] videos throughout. [We] then surveyed the surgeons on ease of use [and] comfort and satisfaction with picture quality, etc.”
NEXT: How Google Glass Scored
How Google Glass Scored
On a scale of one (very poor) to five (excellent) users ranked the device’s average ease of image capture by means of voice activated control an average 3.11, or good. They gave a similar rating, at an average 3.22, for video capture by means of voice-activated control.
Average ease of using the wink feature was poor, at 1.89. Users also reported difficulty with intraoperative image review, rating the feature 2.56.
They rated quality of image at an average 3.89, and quality of video, at 3.67.
One-third of users reported the device distracted them from surgery; yet, on average, operators were required to “sometimes” remove their gaze from the surgical field when taking pictures. Users had to shift their gaze to the display screen to focus the camera on the intended target, the authors write.
Overall, they rated the comfort of wearing Google Glass an average 4.56. Overall satisfaction was an average 3.78.
NEXT: A Promising Technology
A Promising Technology
Despite the weaknesses, the overall survey results suggest plastic surgeons believe Google Glass is a promising device for use in the OR during plastic and reconstructive surgery.
Dr. Sinkin, says he does not use Google Glass regularly in practice and sees it as a work in progress.
“There are many potential strengths of using a hands-free, head-mounted, voice-activated computer with viewing screen in the operating room, including obtaining pictures [and] videos of the surgical field, or reviewing patient data without breaking sterility,” he says. “There is also the potential benefit of tele-consulting with a colleague during surgery to show particular pathology or ask questions, without stepping away from the operating table, or needing a fellow surgeon to come to the OR to take a look. In plastic surgery, we rely heavily on photographs and pictures for documenting patient outcome, and Google Glass has the potential to integrate into that role.”
On the flip side, Dr. Sinkin says, protecting patient privacy is of the utmost importance.
“The question of encryption/security needs to be addressed prior to widespread use in the medical field. In addition, we found that the camera did not always line up with where we, as surgeons, were looking. Picture quality in the OR may benefit from a hardware adjustment that allows the camera to be adjustable up [or] down,” Dr. Sinkin says.
The Future of Google Glass
Joe Niamtu, III, D.M.D., an oral and maxillofacial surgeon with a practice limited to cosmetic facial surgery in Richmond, Va., was among the early testers of the technology and commented on its use in cosmetic surgery in 2014 for Cosmetic Surgery Times.
“In some respects, the Glass was a technology without a use. You had this cool, futuristic device that could do a bunch of neat stuff, but really not supporting apps that could make it practical and useful for medicine and surgery,” Dr. Niamtu says. “It certainly got a lot of attention, but in my opinion, sort of fell by the wayside …. Don’t get me wrong, it will be back! And I believe when it does return you will see numerous supporting apps that will make Glass.2 much more useful.”
Dr. Niamtu says he envisions Google Glass applications that would allow seamless integration into electronic medical records, for example.
“I remember people laughing when the iPad was first released saying it was neat technology that had no use,” he says.
Like the Apple technology, Google Glass is a device whose time has not yet come, but will come, Dr. Niamtu says.