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Readers Write: The Economics of Google Glass in Healthcare

April 3, 2013 Readers Write 6 Comments

The Economics of Google Glass in Healthcare
By Kyle Samani

Google Glass is a fully-featured modern computer running a derivative of Android that fits into a glasses-like form factor that rests comfortably on your face. That includes CPU, RAM, storage, battery, a heads-up-display, a microphone, camera, speaker, WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, and bone conduction technology.

Although Google has been shy to admit it, Glass will have some form of bone conduction technology so that you – and only you – can hear. Of course, you’ll be able to take a picture of or record anything at any time and transmit that data to the entire Internet wirelessly in real time. It’s quite an extraordinary technological breakthrough.

A lot of people think Google Glass can be used as a development platform to create amazing healthcare apps. So do I.

Many of these ideas are obvious, and many of them could be relatively simple to develop. But we won’t see most of them commercialized in the first year Glass is on the market, maybe even two years.

The most obvious analogy to Glass is the iPhone. It’s a revolutionary new technology platform with an incredible new user interface. Glass practically begs the iPhone analogy. Technologically, the analogy has the potential to hold true. But economically, it does not. Because of the economics of Glass, many of these great ideas won’t see the light of day any time soon.

First, there’s the cost. Glass will run a cool $1,500 when it lands in the US this holiday season. There’s no opportunity for a subsidy because Glass doesn’t have native cellular capabilities.

Second, and even more importantly, Glass needs to prove compelling given that you already have a pretty incredible smartphone in your pocket. When the iPhone launched, it competed with the non-consumption of 2007: dumb phones. Glass has to compete with a whole new class of non-consumption: iPhones and Androids. That means Glass has to be so incredible that you’re willing to spend $1,500 given that you already have an amazing smartphone in your pocket. Glass only provides marginal value. It’s a tough sell.

Take another look at the Google link from earlier in this post. Would you pay $1,500+ for any of those individual applications? Probably not. As a hospital CIO, would you pay $1,500+ per employee for hundreds of employees for any of those applications? Probably not.

Although these are all good ideas, the vast majority of Glass ideas aren’t compelling enough to justify the cost of Glass itself. This is inherently true in all Google Glass application markets, both consumer and enterprise. It’s especially true in healthcare given the additional costs of integrating into existing systems and processes.

Doctors in outpatient clinics face a similar challenge. Though some physicians, and perhaps some surgeons, will shell out $1,500 early on, most doctors won’t be willing to commit that kind of capital. I’m sure many physicians would feel concerned about making their patients feel socially uncomfortable, even if a given application proves clinical and financial ROI. But at some point down the line, doctors will probably adopt a Glass-like technology platform, especially with something like the MYO Armband. The human computer interaction (HCI) opportunities with a Glass+MYO armband are endless.

Over time, an increasing number of Glass healthcare apps will become available and the price of Glass and its competition (I’m looking at you, Apple. Also, learn why there will be no iWatch) will fall. Eventually, healthcare app developers writing on Glass will find success, but very few will in the first year Glass is on the market.

That does not mean that the Glass ecosystem is destined for failure. Glass has the potential to solve big problems. Capitalism dictates that app developers will figure out how to use it to solve big problems.

My favorite VC proverb is, "Provide pain pills, not vitamins." For every painkiller Glass app, there will be dozens of vitamins. The painkillers will drive the success of this platform. No one needs to buy Glass. But Glass can help people and create new efficiencies in enterprise markets such as healthcare, education, manufacturing, transportation, construction, gaming, tourism, and many others.

I’m incredibly excited about Glass. It will change the world. Maybe not in its first year on the market, but it will. No one thought much of the iPhone in its first year on the market, but it delivered a revolutionary new user interface and provided a new technology platform that app developers will extend to solve an enormous number of previously unsolvable problems. Glass will, too.

Glass developers, off to the races!

Kyle Samani is inpatient deployment manager at VersaSuite of Austin, TX.

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Currently there are "6 comments" on this Article:

  1. No doubt, it’s neat, it’s cool. it’s awesome.

    But it’s also a classic story of a technology solution looking for a problem. As you indirectly mentioned, it cost $1,500, so for a CIO it needs to solve a $15,000 problem to be justified.

    Keep digging maybe you’ll find one. Or maybe ONC will make it a mandatory MU criteria in Stage 6!

  2. That was really informative Kyle. I honestly wish I had $1500 to be an early adopter. I’m thinking now would be a great time for you to invest in a Galaxy S IV so you can test some of the great toys Google is going to bring to the Android. This technology really excites me because futuristically I think of reviewing x-rays and other images with the blink of an eye. Someday that will grow into being able to gather medical images with the blink of an eye. I am glad Google is taking interest in this technology. I thought about something like this a long time ago. You tend to cherish these sorts of advancements when your eyesight isn’t as great as everyone else’s. Back in those days, cameras on cellphones were nowhere near ready for quick point and shoot action. I thought to myself; man it would be cool if my glasses were capable of snapping pics or catching video some kind of way. Thanks Google for secretly hearing me somehow!

  3. $1500 is a lot for a toy, but a trivial amount for an essential appliance. Assuming that Google Glass has near field communication of some type, the upside potential is unlimited in healthcare. What will cause the lag is not the inherent limitation of Google Glass; it’s the limitations of the EHRs with which it is connecting. The single most important missing technology on the EHR side is speech navigation. When you no longer have to hold a device or touch a screen to interact, that’s an essential appliance and a killer app.

  4. Hey Kyle, Thanks for sharing this insightful new technology innovation! Would love to leverage a wellness application with Google Glass. Ready to work out with the device now (LOL). 😉 Cheers & Be Well, Jeanine “Nini” Martin, Director of National Healthcare at Avanade, Inc

  5. Google glass has always intrigued me, but honestly the MYO band really caught my eye. While Glass is most certainly out of my budget for the foreseeable future, it will be extremely interesting to see how these two devices can be integrated.

  6. Great. You’re excited. I’m cynical. I expect it to be more like the Segway than the iPhone. As soon as Google Glass is initially in the public, expect lots of requests to take them off because people won’t want to be recorded all the time.

    This also seems odd: “No one thought much of the iPhone in its first year on the market,”. History records differently: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_iPhone#US_release

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