Torbay surgeons 1st in UK to trial Google Glass in the operating theatre

Published: 7 May 2014

Surgeons at South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust are investigating the potential for using Google Glass in medical and surgical education. Torbay Hospital surgeons have been trialling Glass in theatres since November 2013 when Core Surgical Trainee and app inventor, Dr George Brighton, managed to acquire a set on loan (from IT company Entrenext Mobile in partnership with Delve Productions in the United States) before their official launch in the UK.

Google Glass was not specifically designed for a medical or scientific purpose. Its design is similar to a traditional pair of glasses, but with a lightweight frame and tiny display that rests neatly above the wearer’s eyes. Glass does a lot more than a traditional pair of glasses: functions as varied as maps, voice search, and video calls to email, calendar, Google Now and photos are all packed into a tiny hands-free device that’s voice-activated by the wearer as required.

Dr Brighton said: “The device itself is effectively a smartphone, head-mounted video camera and computer rolled into one, with an eye-level screen. What’s exciting for medical education is that it allows surgeons to record and share their direct view of the surgical field. This gives huge potential for mentoring and conferencing.

“If, for example, you were performing a rare or complex procedure, you could seek the advice of experts anywhere across the globe whilst operating. The device would also enable consultants to mentor junior surgeons through a procedure, extending their hands-on learning. Or procedures could be streamed to lecture theatres full of students, giving them virtually the full field of vision the surgeon sees.”

Torbay Hospital Orthopaedic Surgeon, Mr David Isaac, was the first surgeon in the UK to use Google Glass throughout a live operation and has since used it during a variety of orthopaedic procedures. A number of other surgeons at Torbay have also used Google Glass for ear nose and throat operations.

Google Glass has huge potential for medical education – students sitting in a lecture theatre can see and hear, from the surgeon’s viewpoint, exactly what is happening during a surgical procedure. However, before they reached this point, doctors in Torbay had to address a number of technical and confidentiality issues.

Mr David Isaac explains: “Two of the key issues we have had to address whilst using Google Glass in the operating theatre are patient confidentiality and privacy. We take these matters very seriously and have been using the past six months as a trial period to address the issues whilst still aiming to get the very best from the potential that this technology has to offer within surgical education.

“We have been investigating the ability to stream and store video to a secure network that can only be accessed by those with the relevant consent, and whilst we can’t currently use Google Glass to connect and stream to the internet, we are just about to start live-streaming to junior doctors and medical students within the Trust.”

Before using Google Glass in theatre, surgeons talk to their patients about the project, making sure that they know what is planned, understand what is involved, how the video will be used and are happy to take part. Patients must give their signed consent before the surgeon can film their procedure using Google Glass.

It is a learning project for the surgeons involved, too. They are currently exploring a number of technical challenges, such as how to be explicit about when the camera is filming and when it is switched off, and for longer procedures how to upload footage without crashing the computer’s memory. It has also taken a bit of practice to get the angle and lighting right so that the resulting footage will be a useful learning tool.

Torbay Hospital’s Consultant Anaesthetist & Associate Medical Director (Innovation & Improvement), Dr Kerri Jones, said: “We actively support innovation here in the South Devon health community and are continuously looking for better ways of delivering care.

“The trialling of Google Glass here is a perfect example of how innovative practitioners such as George are being encouraged to look at leading edge technologies and assess whether we can use them in a way which would add to the quality of care for people in our area.

“Our newly established Horizon Institute strongly supports innovation and will enable us to create productive relationships with academic and industry partners and the AHSN (Academic Health Science Network) so that we can continue to look out for better ways of working, supported by our commissioners.”

Dr Jo Roberts, South Devon and Torbay Clinical Commissioning Group’s lead for innovation, said: “The ground-breaking work being undertaken at Torbay Hospital is fantastic for patients and the health community, and we very much welcome the ongoing search for innovative ways of delivering care.

“It’s part of a bigger approach at Torbay Hospital in particular, and the system in general, and its potential to use Google Glass for sharing learning and insight is massive. We in the health community will continue to look at new, innovative ways of improving patient care.”