Through the (Google) Glass: An Early Adopter’s Experience

    Gil Ortega, MD, MPH, has a passion for technology.

    “Ever since I did a project with NASA when I was a medical student that involved the first telemedicine project from the Andes and Amazon jungle, I have been hooked on using technology in the advancement of orthopaedics,” he said.

    Most of Dr. Ortega’s research revolves around technologic advancements in orthopedics, including computer navigation, wireless communication, and mobile technologies.  

    And now he’s also a Glass Explorer.

    Seeking “Bold, Creative Individuals”

    Dr. Ortega, an orthopaedic trauma surgeon with Sonoran Orthopaedic Trauma Surgeons in Scottsdale, Arizona, is one a select group of individuals who are testing Google Glass in advance of its release to the general public. Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display that is being developed by Google in the Project Glass research and development project. Google Glass displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format; it can interact with the Internet via natural language voice commands.

    “When I heard about the Glass Explorer program (in February 2013), it made sense to apply,” Dr. Ortega said.

    Glass Explorers are early adopters of the technology. In the call for participants in the program, Google said it was seeking “bold, creative individuals” to test the device. They found one in Dr. Ortega, who knew from the beginning that he wanted to use Google Glass to broadcast an orthopaedic trauma procedure to his colleagues.

    Dr. Ortega is no stranger to using a head-mounted device: He published a case series on his experience with MicroOptical (MicroOptical Corporation, Westwood, Massachusetts) in 2008. [1] He referenced this paper when he applied to Google to become a Glass Explorer, which likely factored into his selection.

    Dr. Ortega learned that he had been accepted into the program in March 2013, and he picked up the device at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, on Father’s Day, June 16, 2013. “We made it a family weekend trip to Google and San Francisco,” he said.

    While in San Francisco, he became familiar with the device as he and his family toured the sites of the city, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, and Fisherman’s Wharf. Because he’s so comfortable with technology, his learning curve was quite short.

    “If you know how to use a smartphone or an iPad, you will be able to learn how to use Glass quickly,” Dr. Ortega said, estimating his learning curve at 1 to 2 hours. “If you do not have familiarity with a smartphone or iPad, then I imagine the learning curve may be a few days.”

    Putting Google Glass to the Test

    Back in Scottsdale, it was time to put Google Glass into action in a clinical setting. On June 26, 2013, Dr. Ortega used the device to broadcast a knee fracture surgery from the operating room at Scottsdale Healthcare to a secure internet channel.

    Between returning from San Francisco and broadcasting the live surgery, Dr. Ortega had to manage a lot of details to ensure a successful educational experience for his colleagues.

    First, he had to select the right patient. He wanted an interesting case, with a patient who understood that the surgery would be broadcast live. He found both in a patient with a knee fracture requiring surgery. Dr. Ortgega worked with the hospital’s legal department to draw up an appropriate consent form, which the patient signed.

    Next were logistical issues within the hospital, but those were quickly worked out. “It took a few days to ensure we had a working system,” Dr. Ortega said.

    Finally, Dr. Ortega needed somewhere to broadcast the live surgery. “The technology is so new that there are only a couple of companies working with Google on live streaming through Google Glass,” he said. “I selected a company called Glassters that guaranteed a secure link.”

    Dr. Ortega and his team shared the procedure with surgeons and residents in five states and two countries (the United States and Spain) through the Glassters broadcast. They also recorded the procedure and are currently editing it to share with other surgeons.

    A 7 on a Scale of 1 to 10

    Dr. Ortega’s procedure was one of the first Google Glass broadcasts of a live surgery. “Prior to our procedure, there was only one other surgeon in the world who had attempted a live broadcast while using Google Glass,” he said. “This surgeon did a cartilage transplant in Spain 2 days prior to us.”

    The broadcast went well for a first attempt, Dr. Ortega said, although in the future, he wants to use a faster WiFi connection if possible; he used a 4G connection for the knee fracture broadcast.

    “The Glass worked well,” he said, with the quality of the image “about a 7” on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. “I think future generations (of Google Glass) will have a higher camera resolution, which will improve the quality.”

    His next goal is to broadcast a live anterior primary total hip replacement, and he’s currently looking for the right patient.

    He and the team learned a few things from the first broadcast that they want to “tweak” for the anterior hip broadcast.

    “We learned that our OR lights and my headlight were too bright for participants to see the depth of the surgical field,” Dr. Ortega said. “We will work on this” to determine the best way to light the surgical field for viewers.

    Battery life on the Google Glass device was an issue that will need to be addressed. “We also learned that after about 1 3/4 hours of running live video, the battery started to become low, so we did not broadcast the ending of the procedure,” Dr. Ortega said.

    Dr. Ortega believes Google Glass will have a number of applications in medical education and medical care in the future, including:

    • Clinical evaluations in office settings for teaching medical students, residents, and fellows  
    • Triage in the emergency department or in the field, where the paramedic could transmit a live video feed to the emergency physician or trauma surgeon, or an on-call resident could share a live assessment with an attending physician
    • Educational sharing of live surgeries or other procedures
    • Telemedicine

    Some concluding sentence


    1. Ortega G, Wolff A, Baumgaertner M, Kendoff D. Usefulness of a head mounted monitor device for viewing intraoperative fluoroscopy during orthopaedic procedures. Arch Orthop Trauma Surg 2008;128(10)1123-6.