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A hands-free vision for healthcare

Nicola Parry on March 21, 2014

As the final hours ticked away at Healthcare’s Grand Hackfest: Idea to Breakthrough Innovation in One Weekend, teams huddled together in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory, continuing to brainstorm on their design and prototype innovative breakthroughs from the last few days.

John Rodley, co-founder and chief technology officer of Cambridge startup Twiage, and his team were focused on their product, Vidrio (Spanish for “glass”), a Glass headset that aims to facilitate hands-free documentation of clinical encounters. And, while this weekend’s venture aims to reduce how much time clinicians spend documenting patient visits, it isn’t an entirely new idea for Rodley – it’s one he’s previously batted around with other innovators, but just never had the time to tackle.

“The clinician wears Glass, and does his assessment of the patient,” he explained. “The Glass is videoing and listening at the same time – certain key phrases are coming up in the conversation, and the Glass is interpreting and copying to the EMR [electronic medical record]. It’s also listening for commands, like stills. If the doctor wants a picture of your swollen wrist, he says “still,” and it will shoot five or 10 stills and send them up to the server to be attached to the record.”

Rodley knew coming in that one of the risks would be in using open-source EMR software; that it might not work appropriately. A key feature of their product is transfer of structured information from the hands-free interaction into the EMR. However, using open-source EMRs has proven problematic this weekend – they just haven’t worked. And although Rodley hoped they’d be able to get around this issue easily, it’s been the most difficult part of the hack.

So how will they overcome this initial stumbling block? “An EMR is just a database with a bunch of screens on top of it,” he explained, “so we’ll cook up a database with a couple of screens on top of it! But it won’t be an EMR, and that will be sad, because talking to a real EMR was a very sexy proposition.”

Rodley had expected the voice recognition aspect of the project to be problematic, but the team managed to successfully use a speech recognition engine. And since a key part of the product involves capturing the clinician-patient encounter, he also expected Android-specific problems to arise, especially with regards to splitting the audio and video. But that has also gone smoothly.

Although he’s worked on many other interesting healthcare-related projects, Rodley has encountered the recurring theme of sharing them with doctors, only for them to respond with, “Yeah, that’s cute, but get me out of the documentation!” It was realizing this core need that ultimately led him to this weekend’s hack.

“The Holy Grail is to get doctors out of having to sit at the computer typing way. We’re chipping away at a little bit of it, but hopefully opening a channel that you can keep chipping away at,” he concluded.

Healthcare’s Grand Hackfest is the first in the Kauffman Foundation’s six-city Energizing Health Collaboration Series.

Category:  Ideation  Tags:  ideation, innovation

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