Maybe we'll get a good laugh at ourselves in 10 years.
By then, either Google Glass will have become so mainstream that virtually everyone wears them (Why did we ever think they looked funny on our faces? How did we ever live without these?) or the technology simply fizzles. All this buzz for nothing - just another silly piece of equipment doomed to a hardware graveyard shared by car phones and Palm Pilots.
For now at least, Dr. Ken Mitchell is hopeful.
"I've had them about two months," he said. "It's a lot like a smart phone you wear on your face."
Mitchell, director of Roper St. Francis Healthcare's bariatric surgery program, is one of only a few local doctors who wears them during appointments with patients, in the operating room, even on the golf course.
"Some of it's voice command. The side panel is a mouse track pad so you can move the screen back and forth. Tapping it will allow you to send something. Swiping down allows you to cut it off," he explained during a quick demonstration..
The device allows the user to post a tweet, place a phone call, take a picture, find directions and play music by voice command. Some of its features are controlled by retina movement, too.
"There are other little applications that you can do," Mitchell said. "I was playing this weekend with a golf application that does yardages - how far you're away - which is kind of neat."
Mitchell filed an application in November and was eventually granted an invitation from Google to join the "explorer community" when he purchased his glasses. Now, anyone with $1,500 can buy a pair. They come in a variety of "geek chic" frames and colors.
While novel, the technology raises some privacy concerns, particularly in hospitals where maintaining patient confidentiality is a top priority, not to mention federal law. Sitting across from Mitchell, it's unclear what he's looking at through the device's prism when he's wearing the glasses. The Google Glass is tethered to his smart phone or to a Wifi network that can access a number of apps and the Internet. He's able to take pictures or video by voice command and store the images on its small hard drive.
Mitchell is the only doctor at Roper St. Francis Healthcare that uses Google Glass.
It's new territory for everyone else, too. A spokesman for Trident Health said the hospital's parent company prohibits employees from wearing Google Glass on campus because of patient privacy concerns. HCA Healthcare, which owns Trident Health, operates 165 hospitals across the country. Only one doctor uses Google Glass at the Medical University of South Carolina. A spokeswoman at East Coast Medical Center said no one uses the device at that hospital.
"There's some definite etiquette involved with it," Mitchell acknowledged. He requested permission from hospital administration to use the device and explains how it works to his patients.
"There are some places where you go, because people don't understand it, they think it's an intrusion of privacy. I can pull up my smart phone, take a picture of you and nobody thinks twice about that, but if they think I can do it without my hands or with my glasses, it's scary to some people."
While health care providers work out the appropriate use for the device, it offers some distinct advantages. For one, Mitchell said it keeps him connected to his office during long surgeries. It also offers a more personal patient-to-doctor relationship, encouraging eye contact over staring into a laptop or smart phone screen.
"What this has an opportunity to do is bring back more of a dialogue with your patient," he said.
Dr. Joseph Sakran, an MUSC surgeon, said in an internal report that Google Glass holds particular promise, particularly in the area of telemedicine.
"Part of our responsibility as clinicians is to think outside the box," Sakran said. "This is one of those opportunities where we can wait for others to do it or we can be leaders in the field. There's tremendous opportunity here at MUSC."
But the technology isn't perfect. For example, Mitchell said he can't hang up a phone call without touching the side panel. But in the operating room, that means he must change his surgical gown and re-wash his hands to remain sterile. Also, he couldn't connect the device to his Bluetooth in the operating room recently.
"There are little things that I can't do with it. It's kind of buggy," he admitted. "But I think it will get better."
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.
Dr. Ken Mitchell prepares his Google Glass before scrubbing for surgery at St. Francis Hospital last week.×
Dr. Ken Mitchell looks through his Google Glass as he looks at a monitor during surgery at St. Francis Hospital Tuesday. (Brad Nettles/Staff) 6/10/14×
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