Imagine walking into an emergency room with an awful rash and waiting hours to see a doctor until, finally, a physician who doesn’t have specific knowledge of your condition gives you an ointment and a referral to a dermatologist.
That could change if a technological device like Google Glass, which is a wearable computer that is smaller than an ink pen and includes a camera function, could be strapped to an emergency room doctor’s head or to his or her eyeglasses and used to beam a specialist in to see patients at the bedside. Not only would a patient get a more specific initial diagnosis and treatment, but a second visit to a dermatologist might not be necessary.
Researchers did just this for a small sample of people at the emergency room of the Rhode Island Hospital in Providence. They found during the course of the study that 93.5 percent of patients who were seen with a skin problem liked the experience, and 96.8 percent were confident in the accuracy of the video equipment and that their privacy was protected.
“There had been a lot of talk about using Glass in health care, but at the time that we designed the study, no one had actually tried it. No one knew if it would work,” said Megan Ranney, a study author and assistant professor of emergency medicine and policy at Brown University.
ER doctors normally have to page an on-call specialist – in the study, a dermatologist — to talk through the patient’s condition. With that information, the dermatologist makes a judgment call about the treatment, usually without ever seeing the patient. If there’s no dermatologist available, which can frequently be the situation, doctors do what they can but then refer the patient for follow-up dermatological care. Many rural and community hospitals do not have dermatologists on staff and it’s up to the emergency physician to care for the patient.