“Can you see me? Can you see what I’m doing here?” the surgeon asks from inside the theatre. For the record, that’s not quite the way conversation goes in an operation theatre. The surgeon’s usually concerned about what he can see.

As far as medical procedures go, this was quite ordinary. But there was a guest in the theatre on Tuesday, perched pretty on the bridge of the surgeon’s nose. J.S. Rajkumar, surgical gastroenterologist, and chairman, Lifeline Hospitals, had brought in a piece of the future, for the very first time, reportedly, into an Indian operation theatre. He was wearing the Google Glass.

As the surgeon went in through three port holes to correct gastro oesophageal reflux disease, the Google Glass saw exactly what he did and transmitted a video live, onto a remote location.

Literature shows that twice before, the Google Glass has been within operating theatres. The first surgery with the Glass happened in June in Spain, and the second, in August in Ohio. When the Google Glass was switched on inside Lifeline Hospital’s operation theatre, it was a first in the country, and only the third time in the world that it had sat with surgeons.

Google Glass is a wearable mini computer that sits as its moniker indicates, like a pair of spectacles, except there is only one neat quadrangle prism just above your level of vision over the right eye. A touch screen, the processor and battery are compacted, nearly unbelievably, in the right arm of the part of the glass that rests on the ear. So switch on the device by tapping the touch screen, say “OK, Glass” and then tell it what you want to do: Take a photo; take a video; ask for directions; or just search on Google. Entirely hands free, this genie bows to your voice. It is so seamless, it seems nearly like magic.

Built quintessentially as a tool for social media, the Google Glass allows for instant sharing of the photo/ video you’ve just taken. “It runs on an android processor and you can hook it up to any android device- a mobile phone or a tab. The video can be streamed on any chat site that allows multimedia content, say like Google Hangout,” explains Shiva Thirumazhusai, CEO, Nasotech, the U.S.-based start up that is creating customised apps for the Glass.

So, how did Dr. Rajkumar get hold of the limited edition Google Glass, being rationed out by Google at about $1700. Mr. Shiva says he runs a Google Developers Group in the U.S., and had registered for the Glass a year ago. He was among the first to get it in hand, when Google started shipping them out in May. An old friendship with the surgeon, and Dr. Rajkumar’s own interest in using the device in the theatre, led to the debut for Google Glass in Chennai.

“Whichever way you look at it, it is an amazing device for surgeons. If you are there in the theatre and you have a hitch, you could search for a video about the procedure and clarify what’s happening. Specialists across the world can merely wear this light-weight glass and advise a young surgeon in a remote town on how to go on,” Dr. Rajkumar says. It can also enable relatives of the patient sitting across the world to catch up with the surgery live, and as for eager medical students, the implications are huge.

Nasotech has already added some customisations. For instance, while Google Glass will allow you to take only 10-second videos, the one that was used on Tuesday has virtually no limit on video time. Mr. Shiva says they are working on connecting the Glass with hospital information systems, so that at a command, the patient’s history comes up on the visual layer.

Broadband speeds being perfidious in the best of circumstances in this country, the video from a second hernia surgery did not quite reach the viewing room. Dr. Rajkumar says, “That’s the only thing: if cost and connectivity are in favour, the Google Glass can transform health care access in this country. Isn’t it exciting?” You bet!


Google Glass: eyeing the doctor’s worldMarch 23, 2014

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