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Seeing the Future of Medicine with Google Glass

Doctors who abide by the Hippocratic Oath swear to teach others in the science of medicine, to do what is best for the patient rather than for themselves, and to first, do no harm. But today's modern physicians are charged with much more than that.

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It's not unreasonable to assume your doctor has been immaculately trained and credentialed. Most of us expect our medical providers to be well-versed on the advantages and drawbacks of the medical procedures they perform. But today's doctors are also expected to be up-to-date on cutting edge medical innovations, to know the newest procedures, and even to develop new procedures and protocols themselves.

Medical advances seem to come so fast and furious these days, it's hard to imagine how doctors can keep up with it all. Maybe it's because they are professionals, and they have already spent so much time in school. It could also be because many of them are constantly researching ways to help their patients, whether we read about the research or not. Case in point, the doctors at the University of Wisconsin, who are working hard to research the use of Google Glass in the operating room.

Allied Health World recently spoke to Dr. Jacob Greenberg, a surgeon and faculty member at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, about his work with this new technology, how it's impacting the work he does training new medical professionals, and how he's using Google Glass to continue improving as a surgeon.

Glass half full

Dr. Greenberg's early career path aspirations were decidedly different from where he ended up. He dreamed of being a musician. "I actually grew up in a family with a lot of musicians, and I always was interested in music and thought about being a professional musician. My uncles, who were professional musicians, said that they didn't think it was the greatest of lifestyles, the greatest of jobs. They told me to find something else that I could and would like to do."

There was also another role model in Dr. Greenberg's life who had a tremendous impact on his future career goals. His next-door neighbor was an ear, nose and throat doctor who because a positive role model in Dr. Greenberg's life. Already sold on the idea of working with his hands thanks to playing music, Dr. Greenberg decided he wanted to study medicine.

While playing music and performing surgeries may not seem like they have much in common, Dr. Greenberg said that learning an instrument taught him how to practice. "It taught me very much that you need to sit down and really practice your skills at certain things to get better, and that translates very nicely to surgery."

If playing music has informed the way that Dr. Greenberg practices being a surgeon, then his use of Google Glass could the next step in that practice.

For the record

It may be an easy thing to forget how much work goes into being a medical professional and how dangerous it can be if the doctor, surgeon, nurse, or anesthesiologist is not properly trained. Part of Dr. Greenberg's job is to help with training students at Wisconsin.

"As a surgeon in an academic institution, the majority of our cases are done with a resident, who is a surgeon in training, and then also usually with a medical student as well. So a lot of what we do, and a lot of the operations that I do, are actually done as teaching and learning experiences for the residents and medical students. So it's a balance between doing the operation safely and having a great outcome for the patient as well as giving the opportunity to train the next generation of surgeons, which is part and parcel of our job."

In order to facilitate this training, Dr. Greenberg started to use Google Glass when performing surgeries. He explained how he hit upon the idea to do this:

"I got involved in doing that as sort of a means for not only creating a video library so that residents can see the type of procedures that we do and how I tend to do them, but also for my own benefit, because when you watch what you do and then review how you do it I think you get to see little ways that you can improve. And you can do it in a stress-free environment, so it's not done in real time. It's done going back over the operation and looking at something you could've done better."

Not only can the technology record video, but it also captures audio. This can help monitor the team interactions that happen during an operation.

"The team interaction is of vital importance. There are so many working parts during an operation. The anesthesiologist has to keep the patient comfortable and asleep; the scrub tech, who is the person that hands us our instruments, has to be paying attention and have the stuff that we need pretty quickly so that we don't have to divert our focus away from the operation; there's also a circulating nurse, who is someone who's in the room but not scrubbed so that they can go and get additional supplies if they need to, or help the other people in the room when necessary. So there's a lot of working parts to get a patient through an operation safely, and they're all very, very important."

Starting from the bottom

Even though he has been practicing medicine for many years, Greenberg is not holding himself above using Google Glass to improve upon his own techniques.

"I sat down with my surgical coach, who happens to be one of my partners, to look over a case that I had recorded to get his perspective on how I could get the resident doing the case more involved and set them up a little bit better. So basically had a coaching session where I was the coachee and he was the coach."

Dr. Greenberg said it was the first time he had participated in this type of coaching in his professional career. He also said that it might be rare in the medical world overall.

"So I would say that I don't think as a profession we have done this very well. And so I think that this is an opportunity to see if this program works, which I truly think it will, and I think it will actually potentially revolutionize the way that we train and get better once we're done our initial training. I think it's a fantastic idea and I think one that really, really has the ability to take off over the next several years."

One and done

Since Dr. Greenberg works at the University of Wisconsin, he roots for many of the Badgers sports teams. I asked him if he watched the men's basketball team play in the NCAA tournament.

"They were great, and they were so close to beating Kentucky. It was a great game, but unfortunately it didn't work out the way we wanted it to. But I'm sure that we'll be back there next year, because we're not losing too many players, so we should be pretty good."

The basketball team will have another chance to reach their ultimate goal. Musicians, even if they hit a few bad notes during a show, know they have other songs to play, and other shows in which to strive for perfection. Surgeons do not have that luxury. Each surgery needs to be perfect or else the patient can be irreparably harmed. Doctors must continually train and hone their skills, and Google Glass is poised to be an innovation that helps them do so. What was supposed to be a primarily consumer product may end up changing the way doctors record and study surgeries, how they share information, and how they train new nurses, physician assistants, and future doctors and surgeons.

Proper preparation can prevent poor performance. By using Google Glass in his surgery room, Dr. Greenberg is doing his best to prevent poor performance while training, which can prevent poor performance by these medical professionals in the future. If the testing he is doing takes off, it may change the way doctors train themselves and each other.


Sources:

Interview with Dr. Jacob Greenberg, surgeon and faculty at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, conducted by Jamar Ramos

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