Monday, July 7, 2014

Wear did my Glass go?

Oh, it’s right here, on my desk:

Glass is gathering dust ...  bonus points for those of you who can positively ID the other objects on the desk.

Unfortunately, this is where my Google Glass has been sitting for essentially all of 2014.  I will occasionally turn it on to check out the latest software updates.  It’s also still paired with my iPhone, so it will happily chime when I get a personal email, but other than that, it’s been a novelty at best since I became a Glasshole Glass Explorer in 2013.

However, the promise of wearable technology like Glass still boggles my mind: instant and seamless information retrieval, personal data monitoring for all (i.e., the quantified self), and that trendy cool factor (uh … except Glass.  Definitely not Glass).

In healthcare, there have been some truly innovative ideas and initiatives related to Glass as well as the application of stock functionality that is no less exciting.  Wearable Intelligence has demonstrated an exciting workflow complete with EHR integration in collaboration with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which is made possible by a custom version of Android.  Pristine has developed a compelling telehealth solution now in use in the healthcare setting.  And Duke’s own Selene Parekh is excited about the potential to improve orthopedic surgery standard of care in disadvantaged countries.

Yet despite all that … it’s still Glass.  You know, that weird-looking thing on your head with all-morning battery life and awful image quality that requires the user to look up and into the distance whenever something on the (admittedly pretty cool) display calls your attention.  I completely understand the promise and appeal of Glass, and sincerely appreciate what Glass has done to move the entire industry forward with respect to wearable technology, yet despite all the exploration, I never quite found … it.

Which is why I’m truly excited about the next generation of wearable technology, starting with the launch of the first Android Wear devices today, the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live.  I'm not going to review these devices or provide a point-by-point comparison.  The reason I'm so excited about this next crop of devices is because they promise many of the benefits of Glass without being Glass.  Quick and hands-free access to information?  Check.  Integration with your phone?  Check.  Custom apps?  Check.  All-day battery life?  Check.  Mass FBI-worthy paranoia?  Um ... no.  $1500 price tag?  Try $200.

Things are just getting started.  With a (hopefully) stable Android platform and a likely iWearable right around the corner, the time for mass consumption of wearable devices is almost here.  Just as smartphones truly took off only after an app ecosystem was introduced, smartwatches never had a chance until the threshold for app development became low enough.  2014 will be remembered as the year that happened (I do like my Pebble, though - way ahead of its time).

So what does all this mean for healthcare?  Glass development will likely continue for limited use cases like those described above, but watches will open up more opportunities simply because they're more socially acceptable.  For these to succeed, apps and workflows must be integrated into the EHR - the single source of truth.  Here at Duke, we're in the process of creating such a framework, which I'll discuss in a future post along with my philosophy on EHR integration.

The only constant in technology is change.  Those who are pragmatically prepared to adapt and adopt the latest innovative technologies with a minimum of effort are going to be richly rewarded with the best opportunities to enhance patient care, further research goals, and streamline clinical workflows.  I can't wait to see what the rest of 2014 brings.

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