MADRID -- Spanish medicine stands to turn Google Glass from spring 2014's hottest accessory into a way to save lives. From the first surgery performed entirely through the eye of the Glass to dozens of mobile applications, Spanish Glass-based innovation is poised to change the way doctors work and communicate.
This June, Dr. Pedro Guillen became the first to operate wearing Google Glass. The chief of trauma at the Clínica CEMTRO de Madrid performed a highly complex chondrocyte implantation, to form a membrane in the damaged knee of a 49-year-old. The surgery, which requires harvesting cartilage from another part of the leg and which Guillen pioneered in 1996, was streamed in real time to 150 doctors around the world, all sharing the same view as him.
The purpose of Google Glass -- a lightweight pair of glasses equipped with a camera, GPS, bluetooth, microphone and viewfinder -- is to connect with smartphones to allow the wearer to search and access information online and to use an eye-level camera, all hands-free. For Guillen, Google Glass gives the phrase "doctors without borders" a whole new meaning.
He described Google Glass as "la universidad de hospitales de todos los países del mundo" -- the university for all medical schools around the world. "You see my hands, how I do the surgery," he said, in awe of the possibilities of Google Glass in his field. In this first Glass surgery, Guillen was accompanied by Dr. Homero Rivas, director of innovative surgery at Stanford University's School of Medicine and an expert in telemedicine, who advised the doctor throughout the course of the surgery, all from his packed classroom on the California campus. "The universities can interact with me," Guillen said, as Rivas could also pass on questions from his students, many of whom were witnessing surgery from a firsthand perspective for the first time.
Guillen seems simply thrilled to be able to perform surgery with Google Glass, not just for the teaching opportunities, but for his own sake, too. He enthusiastically talked about being able to use Glass's miniature split screen to look at the arthroscopic view of the knee he's working on and a video refreshing how to properly separate and repair the joint, all at the same time, without taking his eyes off the operating table.
"In one minute, I can Google 'anatomy of the knee,' for example," and find and watch a video he already prepared, or he could reference his own chondrocyte implantation from the exact same view that he performed it. If something were to go wrong, like during a live sports game, he could even rewind the tape to review the surgery then and there. Not only does he have the information the moment he needs it and doesn't need to distract himself to discover it, but also keeping difficult-to-sterilize computers out of the O.R. helps prevent infections.
Guillen, who, like all surgeons, is preoccupied with the comfort and ease of use of anything added to their routine, assured us that the glasses -- which he said are "at the perfect height" over his own -- were not uncomfortable, and, by the time he was in surgery, he didn't notice them at all.
Of course, like all smartphones and tablets, Google Glass is nothing without the apps. Murcia-based mobile app company Droiders has an entire department called Glassters, developing everything from augmented realities to assistance for those with disabilities. On the medical side, they are working on developing apps that enable ophthalmologists to examine eyes directly and to compare with results of Google's "Search by Image." There's also talk of an app that would allow any doctor or nurse to take a pulse rate without having to touch a patient. Guillen's surgery was broadcast live through the Glassters Streamer.
Guillen is ready to perform his next Google Glass surgery on September 17, where he will be able to show from his perspective another operation that he invented -- wireless arthroscopic surgery, which was first performed in 2007. Guillen and his team at the Clínica CEMTRO de Madrid invented the Wireless Arthroscopic Device (WAD), which is a tiny camera inserted through a small incision used to examine and sometimes repair a damaged joint. Since the joint isn't fully opened, recovery time is much shorter.
He said that his clinic is "probably the top in the world" for such surgeries and that "all of my patients are out-patient," including former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, footballer Fernando "El Niño" Torres, and several rhythmic gymnasts, an Olympic sport that Spain typically medals in.
Guillen is excited about the ways Google Glass can better enable him to teach his pioneering procedures to doctors around the globe.
Photos: Google Glass, Droiders (thumbnail); of Google Glass, Google; of Dr. Guillen, Clínica CEMTRO de Madrid