Surgeons are using Google Glass to record and share their first person view of operations with medical students.
Torbay Hospital in Devon managed to acquire a set of the voice-activated glasses, which feature a tiny display above the wearer's eyes and can record video and live-stream operations via the internet, before their official launch in the UK.
David Isaac, an orthopaedic surgeon, became the first surgeon in the UK to use Google Glass through a live operation according to South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, and the device has since been used by other surgeons in a variety of ear, nose and throat operations.
Using Google Glass allows students sitting in a lecture theatre to see and hear from the surgeon’s viewpoint exactly what is happening during a surgical procedure, but the device also raised a number of technical and confidentiality issues.
"Two of the key issues we have had to address whilst using Google Glass in the operating theatre are patient confidentiality and privacy," Isaac said.
"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."
The loan of the device from IT company Entrenext Mobile in partnership with Delve Productions in the USA, was secured by surgical trainee at the hospital and app inventor Dr George Brighton.
"The device itself is effectively a smartphone, head-mounted video camera and computer rolled into one, with an eye-level screen," he said.
"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."
Surgeons talk to their patients about the project and how footage will be used before using Google Glass in theatre, according to the Trust, and they must give their signed consent before any filming.
Surgeons 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 they are also investigating how to upload footage of longer procedures without crashing the computer's memory.
It has also taken practice to perfect the angle and lighting to ensure any footage is a useful learning tool, the hospital says.
Dr Kerri Jones, consultant anaesthetist and associate medical director for innovation and improvement at the hospital, said: "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."