Google Glass delivers new insight during surgery

UCSF surgeon is first to receive clearance for use of the tech device in the operating room.

UC San Francisco cardiothoracic surgeon Pierre Theodore, M.D., goes into the operating room with one main goal: getting his patient in and out of surgery safely and efficiently.

Technology has offered vast improvements to that process and a new technology gadget, the Google Glass, is taking that a giant step further.

Google Glass, a 1.8-ounce computer configured like a pair of eyeglasses, already is gaining popularity in the medical world as a teaching tool, recording surgeries from the surgeon’s point of view and live-streaming that view to colleagues or students. But Theodore has found another application for Google Glass that he believes could transform the way doctors perform surgery.

Theodore pre-loads CT and X-ray images needed for a procedure, and calls them up in his Google Glass to compare a medical scan with the actual surgical site.

“Often one will remove a tumor that may be deeply hidden inside an organ – the liver, the lung – for example,” said Theodore, who’s also an associate professor in the UCSF School of Medicine. “To be able to have those X-rays directly in your field without having to leave the operating room or to log on to another system elsewhere, or to turn yourself away from the patient in order to divert your attention, is very helpful in terms of maintaining your attention where it should be, which is on the patient 100 percent of the time.”

Theodore is the first surgeon to receive clearance for the use of the tech device as an auxiliary surgical tool in the operating room, by a local Institutional Review Board (IRB), an independent ethical review board designated to approve, monitor and review biomedical research involving human subjects. He was introduced to the idea by Nate Gross, M.D., co-founder and medical director of Rock Health, a San Francisco-based startup company focused on the future of digital health.

While wearing the Google Glass, data on the “screen” appears in the wearer’s peripheral vision, Gross explained.

“If my vision is a tic-tac-toe board, it would take one of those upper corners,” he said. “It feels like looking in the rearview mirror of your car. That rear view is always there when I need it, but it’s not there when I don’t.”

UCSF and health care providers across the U.S. are increasingly introducing new technology to transform health. UCSF launched the Center for Digital Health Innovation last year in part to validate the functionality and accuracy of new digital health devices, diagnostics, mobile health applications and sensor-based technologies and to evaluate whether they bring value and improve outcomes for patients in the ever-evolving health care delivery system.

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