Software, Google Glass combine to offer visual cues to surgeons
May 10, 2015
When it comes to surgery, even minor mistakes can have deadly consequences. That’s why one Chicago company wants to get everything doctors need to know in their line of sight — even while they’re in the operating room.
Vizr Tech, a Chicago-based healthtech startup, has developed software for Google Glass, tablets and other monitors to subtly remind surgeons what they need to know during a procedure. Its Visual Information Zonal Reminder software is intended to help surgeons keep track of time and provide visual checklists and reminders.
Surgeons “know what to do” but want to make sure they’re not missing a simple step or losing track of time, says Vizr Tech President and CEO Richard Buchler. Buchler, whose background is in hospital administration, and trauma surgeon Dr. Alex Guerrero founded the company last year.
“If you take the memorization out of the process and timing out of the process, you can focus on doing the physical part you were trained to do,” he said.
Buchler said the company’s products are being used at two hospitals in the Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Health Network.
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Vizr Tech also is setting up a pilot study that will begin in December at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine’s Graham Clinical Performance Center. The study will determine whether residents perform better during simulation using the company’s software run on Google Glass.
Dr. Valerie Dobiesz, the principal investigator for the pilot study, said UIC will publish the results of the test and use the pilot to determine how the software might help surgeons.
“That’s part of the trial and error of getting new applications (into a clinical practice) — to find the right setting for them,” Dobiesz said.
Dr. Paul Kuo, chair of the Department of Surgery at Loyola University Health System, said the checklists are a simple way of making sure a team is on the same page before a procedure. He said the Vizr software run on Google Glass could be helpful.
“The ability to get information while simultaneously looking at a patient is probably the biggest advantage, as opposed to looking away to a smartphone or chart or computer screen or physical textbook,” he said.
Kuo said additions to the wearable technology could affect how surgeons perform procedures.
“If you were doing a surgery and you wanted to superimpose a 3D representation of a CAT scan onto what you were seeing so you could localize a tumor, that would be incredible,” Kuo said. “Things like that where we could take images that can be reconstructed and superimposed on what we’re seeing real-time would be really very cool. Whether it would change the outcomes, that’s hard to know but certainly very intriguing.”
Dr. Jeff Matthews, chairman of the department of surgery at the University of Chicago Medical Center, said the department’s surgeons undergo a formalized pre-procedure “time-out” process in which they run through specific steps displayed on video monitors.
“It’s a way of formalizing communication and exchanging information so that things are not missed,” Matthews said. “On occasion you find something that might otherwise have been missed.”
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But Google Glass, which many say has struggled with user friendliness, may have some growing up to do before surgeons bring it into the operating room.
“The idea that a surgeon could have in their line of sight at all times some kind of information display, I think, is an appealing one,” Matthews said.
"The question is, at this early stage, whether (Google Glass) is smoothly executable so that it’s not glitchy and getting in the way more than it’s helpful," he said.
“At this time, I don’t think the (Glass) technology is there that it feels natural or comfortable for people to (use) this on a routine basis.”