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With Google Glass, Sutter Health Sees mHealth Success in Workflows

California's Sutter Health is using Google Glass and Augmedix mHealth software to reduce time spent by its doctors on administrative tasks. Those improved workflows lead to less stress and burnout.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- While the disastrous commercial launch of Google Glass is now a distant memory, one of northern California’s largest health systems is seeing strong success with the enterprise version of the mHealth smartglasses. And officials are crediting that success to what they’re calling “the human ROI.”

“This is not a machine,” Albert Chan, MD, chief of digital patient experience at Sutter Health, says of the high-tech wearable. “It’s a solution to workflow problems.”

And it’s making a world of difference, Chan says, to physicians who generally spend half their time with patients and the other half doing administrative tasks.

The Sacramento-based, 24-hospital, not-for-profit health system is one of the largest networks using Google Glass, with more than 100 physicians sporting the smartglasses in a wide variety of locations. Those devices are embedded with mHealth technology developed by Augmedix, one of a handful of companies designing software for smartglasses.

Among the most popular uses for the smartglasses is in translating patient encounters into the medical record. This is typically done either by the doctors themselves or by scribes, who copy clinician directives – written or taped – into the patient’s record. Chan says Sutter Health now employs about five scribes for every four doctors.

With Google Glass and Augmedix technology, Chan says that process is streamlined – for both the doctor and the scribe - and made more meaningful. The patient visit is entered into the record immediately, with more accuracy, absent the vagaries of a doctor’s handwriting, an imperfect recording or time spent between the visit and data entry.

Recently, Sutter Health and Augmedix announced a collaboration with Google to add artificial intelligence tools, by connecting the smartglasses to the Google Cloud Platform.

“Our work on GCP has been accelerating as we continue to advance our capabilities using Google Cloud machine learning APIs and core HIPAA-secure cloud infrastructure services,” Ian Shakil, co-founder and CEO of Augmedix, said in an announcement released at this year’s HIMSS18 conference in Las Vegas. “As our largest deployment, Sutter represents an at-scale example of what’s possible when you bring together a technology-enabled documentation service for health systems and the power of the cloud.”

Chan, who uses Google Glass in his own family medicine practice, says the wearables aren’t meant to improve clinical outcomes – at least not directly. They’re designed to reduce the stress on clinicians by giving them an intuitive, hands-free means of completing administrative tasks, such as entering data into the patient record, collaborating with the care team and messaging.

“We envision this, really, as our digital clinical wingman,” says Chan, whose research into how clinicians interact with the electronic health record platform has found that physicians currently split their time evenly between patient interaction and administrative tasks. “What they’re doing now is not efficient, and it is affecting patient care.”

Chan sees machine learning technology as the next step in that process.

“As AI matures, we can layer that into our (administrative) processes to make things more efficient,” he says. “We can understand patterns and anticipate needs.”

That will include what Chan describes as “relieving the burden of the in-box”: using Google Glass to sort through e-mails and other messages and managing schedules.

The success of the mHealth platform, Chan says, will be measured not necessarily in clinical outcomes, but in user satisfaction. He wants this technology to reduce the amount of stress placed on clinicians due to administrative work, and thus to reduce burnout. A less-stressed clinician, meanwhile, becomes a happier doctor, and that in turn improves productivity.

“When you peel back the layers of administrative duties, you find you’ll have more time to spend with the patient,” he points out. “And they’ll become more attentive.”

Eventually, Chan envisions more proactive uses for Google Glass. Instead of just reacting to incoming tasks, he wants the technology to start looking ahead.

“Can we get to a place where we’re anticipating a patient’s needs?” he asks.

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