by Christien van den Brink
THE HAGUE, Sept. 4 (Xinhua) -- Google Glass will likely be commercially available early 2014, and while Google's advertising has focused on the social uses of its features, the technology is likely to have far-reaching applications for personal healthcare and professional medicine.
Is Google Glass going to revolutionize the medical profession?
Medical research centers and physicians from all over the world have shown interest to explore the possibilities of Google Glass for the medical world.
By holding an open contest, Google selected 8,000 "winners" who could buy the Glass for 1,500 U.S dollars. These winners have become an early group of beta users, helping Google work out the bugs before releasing the product more widely.
The Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands was one of the winners of the contest and the first health system to test Google Glass in Europe. The hospital's innovation center wants to explore the benefits of the new technology, giving Google and Radboud an advantage in preparing the stage for an actual launch.
"By exploring the possible added value for healthcare, we became a bit part of their marketing campaign. Being at the forefront of new technology brings that as a side effect, doing scientific research on an independent level however, mitigates the possible biases that could come with that," director of the Radboud innovation center Lucien Engelen told Xinhua.
But how exactly could Google Glass help the medical world? Specialists think the possibilities are endless.
Doctors and healthcare professionals could access data in real time by wearing their Google glasses. Or they could communicate with colleagues far away, while getting instant feedback to improve the efficiency and quality of patient care.
And also in the operation room, the glass might have potential. Surgeons could see real-time patient data like CT-scans as they operate, and get feedback about their progress to improve outcomes.
Harry van Goor is surgeon and professor in surgical education at the Radboud. He tested the Google Glass during an abdominal operation. He filmed the three-hour procedure with Google Glass, which allowed students to follow the surgery from the doctor's perspective. Although the footage was a bit shaky, the first results were promising.
Apart from being a teaching tool, van Goor also used the hands-free glasses as an instant-documentation tool. "Normally you can take notes through a distant microphone. But by covering real time what you see and do, notes will get much more specific and reliable," van Goor told Xinhua.
But critics worry that operating with a pop-up menu in front of the surgeon's eye can be very distracting. According to Harry van Goor it isn't.
"The little screen inside the glass is always above my eye. So when I do the surgery I have to look down and then I can't see the pop-up screen, which allows me to fully concentrate on my work," he added.
Another often heard remarks about Google Glass is whether the technology can provide adequate privacy protection. For example, recording patients in the hospital or elsewhere can be legally challenging.
Also, if hospitals want to maximize the utility of Google Glass, they will require access to patient specific information.
For hospitals this alone could be reason to strictly limit the use of Google Glass in the clinical environment unless it was user selective, or at the very least, password protected.
"Yes, there will be a lot of privacy discussion about Google Glass, just as there was with the smart phone," Engelen said.
"I agree that there will be needed new conventions stating how and when to film or not to film. But basically these matters are covered by general privacy regulations that are already in place, because of the use of smart phones and tablets."
Even though applications for healthcare might seem endless, Google Glass is little more than a prototype at this point, making it difficult to predict its future in the medical world.