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Google Glass not a flop in the emergency room, doctor says

The medical community is breathing new life into Google Glass.

The once-anticipated hot tech trend that consists of a pair of eyeglasses with a computer, microphone and camera built into the frame failed to catch on with the broader mainstream market when it debuted to select consumers in 2013. But now, the old technology is taking on a new function — serving as a tool for doctors in emergency situations.

Doctor Huang Yunchao, wearing Google Glass, performs a live surgery to remove a tumor at The Third Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University.
VCG | Getty Images
Doctor Huang Yunchao, wearing Google Glass, performs a live surgery to remove a tumor at The Third Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University.

"Consumers weren't ready for Google Glass," said emergency physician Dr. Peter Chai. "But the medical community has given it a second life."

Chai, who's also a toxicologist and assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, says doctors are using Glass as a way to bring specialists to patients in a more efficient manner.

"We are using Google Glass to beam our specialists down to us in the emergency medical department," said Chai to CNBC's "Closing Bell."

If a patient overdoses or is poisoned, Glass allows a bedside doctor to transmit data and video in real time to a toxicology specialist in a different location. Chai says this can lead to more confidence in patient diagnosis and necessary treatment.

Through Chai's research, which is supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health, supervisory consultants who viewed a poisoned patient before looking at the patient through Glass reported confidence in 59 percent of cases when diagnosing a specific toxidrome. Yet, after a virtual exam of the patient through Glass, the confidence of patient diagnosis rose to 94 percent.

The University of Massachusetts team joined the Glass Explorer program in 2014 and partnered with an outside software company to make the device compliant with health-care regulations (HIPAA) and secure from a health-care standpoint. But since the devices were made several years ago, and have essentially disappeared from the market since, Chai says wireless connectivity is a problem that will need to be addressed in the near future.

In terms of a monetary benefit of using Glass, more research needs to be done on whether it will ultimately reduce costs in a hospital. However, Chai says it looks promising, noting that when additional software is added to the $1,500 device, the outcome is cheaper than traditional telemedicine carts used in hospitals.

"This will be a really interesting way for community hospitals, and large academic centers like ours, to save costs and transform into a telemedicine suite without having to do a lot of complex wiring," Chai said.