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Google Glass moves into the hospital at Beth Israel

Dr. Steven Horng uses Google Glass for quick, hands-free access to patients’ data.

Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff

Dr. Steven Horng uses Google Glass for quick, hands-free access to patients’ data.

Wearable computers may become routine in the future, but emergency department doctors already use Google Glass spectacles to gain fast, hands-free access to patient records at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The high-tech glasses feature a tiny screen above the right eye and a camera that can snap pictures or record video. They respond to voice commands and can be controlled with subtle head movements.

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Beth Israel has integrated Google Glass by posting a unique QR code, something like a barcode, on the doorway to each emergency patient’s room. Special software installed on hospital versions of the glasses can read the code and instantly call up a patient’s electronic medical record.

It’s a new tool that puts vital information in front of a physician just a bit faster in an environment where every second counts.

“Timely access to this critical information can really save lives,” said Dr. Steven Horng, the technical lead on Beth Israel’s Glass project.

Beth Israel is not alone among hospitals experimenting with Google Glass applications. Doctors around the country are testing the eyewear’s potential in telemedicine — enabling physicians in remote locations to see and treat patients through the eyes of someone at the bedside wearing Google Glass.

Beth Israel is the first US hospital to make the device a staple of everyday care in a major department. A four-month pilot program preceded the full rollout, giving doctors time to learn how to work with the equipment.

The screen must be positioned just so — clearly in focus when the wearer glances up and to the right, but also unobtrusive when the user looks straight ahead. Doctors must also learn how to scroll through information using neck and head motions.

The temporary pain of troubleshooting is worth achieving a bigger goal, Horng said. He wants to use technology in a way that keeps doctors in front of patients, not screens.

“Ever since we developed our first electronic medical records in the 1970s, we’ve been dreaming about wearable computing, dreaming about getting away from the computer and back to the bedside,” he said. “We’ve used a lot of devices, but none of them were wearable — none until Google Glass.”

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.
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