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March 11, 2014

Google Glass won't solve EMS problems (but it can help)

Evolving technology has made EMS more sophisticated in its ability to assess patients in the field.

Equipment such as pulse oximetry, glucometry, capnography, multi-lead electrocardiograms, and portable labs have increased the diagnostic capability of EMS providers. It’s just too bad that the rest of the medical profession has had difficulty understanding the increasing sophistication of those in the field.

A recent article points to a Rhode Island ER being the first to test Google Glass on medical conditions — and envisions “ ambulance crew someday responding to a stroke victim, using the eyeglass technology to provide real-time video and audio to a neurologist back at the hospital who could then order a clot-busting, brain-saving drug immediately.”

Um, couldn’t we do that now, sans glasses? Education standards require  paramedics to understand essential functions of the brain, how and why strokes occur, and how to identify them early. EMS providers have been shown to be fairly accurate in identifying strokes using standardized assessments. We perform a limited set of tests to rule out hypoxia and hypoglycemia. We assist in identifying who is a candidate for therapy and who is not. With all respect to the physician community, please think bigger than this.

Remote sensing technology will help extend the reach of the medical field. We are moving toward a decentralized approach to health care in this country; it’s simply cheaper and just as effective to receive medical attention in clinics and health centers, compared to hospitals. Greater preventive efforts will go even further in reducing the overall cost.

Telemedicine will allow fewer physicians to effectively oversee a web of health care professionals who are prepared to function interdependently, as a team, to better care for patients. 

Using a piece of equipment as an electronic leash is counterproductive to that approach. I’ve seen these quotes before, from physicians who mean well, but don't realize how they denigrate the industry in making such comments. Yes, EMS will have to continue to do its housecleaning and improve the consistency of its educational model. But many parts of the country are already there, and doing some amazing things in improving overall community health.

Technology like Google Glass should augment and enhance that function, not restrict and limit it. Have some trust in the human component of the system.

About the Author

Art Hsieh, MA, NRP teaches in Northern California at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. An EMS provider since 1982, Art has served as a line medic, supervisor and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook writer, author of "EMT Exam for Dummies," has presented at conferences nationwide and continues to provide direct patient care regularly. Art is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Contact Art at and connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.