Google Glass in the Operating Room and Beyond

Google GlassCan an innovative piece of hardware significantly alter the medical industry? Google Glass, a tiny computer and camera built into a pair of glasses with a monitor right above the user’s right eye, is a relatively new development that is undergoing testing by several surgeons throughout the United States.

Since surgeons have to maintain a sterile environment in the operating room, hand-held devices are not the best choice. Google Glass, with its hands-free and voice-activated capabilities, could be a breakthrough tool once steps are taken to ensure security and efficiency. Hospitals currently testing the device make sure they have the patient’s consent before use, work with encrypted networks only and adhere to HIPAA laws. Additionally, Pristine, a medical software company, plans to customize Glass for use in the medical field by replacing Google’s software with HIPAA-compliant programs.

In the meantime, the device is still going through testing and experimentation, but the versatility and relatively low cost of Google Glass could prove it to be a very useful tool in the operating room and beyond. In fact, it has already started to branch out into the academic sphere. According to articles written by Southern California Public Radio and UCI News, UC Irvine School of Medicine is on track to become the first school in the U.S. to use Google Glass in its curriculum for all four years. Dr. Warren Wiechmann, assistant clinical professor of emergency medicine and associate dean of instructional technologies at UC Irvine, will be spearheading the initiative.

In May 2014, the school bought 10 pairs of Glass for use in the operating room and emergency department at the start of the school year for third- and fourth-year students. When first- and second-year students start in August, they plan to purchase 20 to 30 more pairs for use in the medical simulation center, ultrasound institute, Clinical Skills Center, basic science lecture hall and anatomy labs. They will be used to teach students everything from anatomy and operating techniques to bedside manner and more.

Since students will be able to see everything that their instructor sees when the instructor is wearing the Glass, the device can greatly enhance the classroom experience. For example, UC Irvine is hoping to use Google Glass a great deal for streaming live video from the medical center in Orange to a basic science lecture hall back in Irvine, so students can see patients being treated for different diseases in real time from the perspective of the physician.

However, physicians and faculty members are not the only ones who get to wear Google Glass. Students are using the device to communicate with their instructors as they are dissecting or engaging in a simulation exercise. While the students work, their instructors can observe through the Glass and send advice or guidance along the way.

The New York Times recently posted an article on the new device explaining its possible uses and setbacks. The following is a summary of research findings both for and against the use of Google Glass in the operating room:


  • Recording and storing surgical footage for future use
  • Streaming live feeds of surgeries as a means to educate other surgeons
  • Flashing medical images on screen during surgery for reference
  • Consulting with other medical professionals via video chat while operating
  • Accessing a patient’s vital signs, lab results, and surgical checklists quickly on screen
  • Displaying important medical information, such as images during a laparoscopy, face to face


  • Battery is drained fairly quickly while filming
  • Camera doesn’t match up with the surgeon’s line of vision when looking down at a patient
  • Device has to be disconnected from the Internet to prevent automatic upload to the cloud
  • User can be easily distracted with the ability to access e-mail, social media, and the web
  • Screen may cause a form of tunnel vision or perceptual blindness to surrounding areas
  • Patients may be uncomfortable with their doctor wearing the device or the possibility of accidentally streaming confidential information online

Used by surgeons, physicians, instructors and students, Google Glass is having an impact in the way patients are treated and future doctors are taught. As Dr. Wiechmann noted, “Medical education has always been very visual and very demonstrative, and Glass has enormous potential to positively impact the way we can educate physicians in real time. Indeed, all of medicine is based on ‘seeing,’ not ‘reading,’ the patient.” Undoubtedly, the future looks bright when you’re staring through the Glass!

Will wearable technology revolutionize medical education? Tell us your thoughts.

***All information sourced from NYT’s “Google Glass Enters the Operating Room”, UCI’s “UCI School of Medicine first to integrate Google Glass into curriculum” and SCPR’s “UC Irvine to use Google Glass throughout medical school.”

About DIT Advising Team

The Doctors In Training Student Advising Team offers many advisory services including the following: customizing individual study plans for USMLE Step 1/ COMLEX Level 1 or USMLE Step 2 CK/ COMLEX Level 2, advising students with respect to combating everyday stress and test anxiety and preparing students for the residency application process.
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