Google Glass + Healthcare = Privacy, Safety & Security Concern


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As health informatics (HI) professionals, we advocate leveraging technology in healthcare for a number of reasons, most notably and most importantly, to enhance the patient-care journey and attain improved health outcomes. We are also cognizant of the pitfalls technology may have in e-health systems, as such many organizations have developed programs to mitigate negative events. Here, Canada’s Health Informatics Association (COACH) is paving the way with its practice Guidelines – Privacy & Security and eHealth Safety. Risks, whether Privacy, Security, and/or eSafety, are mitigated on a principled approach pertaining to eHealth systems.

What happens in the case of “intrusive” technologies?

Let’s examine Google Glass. This revolutionary product promises to deliver an integrated experience with Google services and technologies, which may alter how we do things in the near future. A recent article by TheStreet outlines some of the “pitfalls/risks ” these glasses may have on businesses.

What the article doesn’t explore is: What are the consequences Google Glass may have in a healthcare setting?

With its ability to instantly snap photos/videos and share them, Google Glass has the potential of creating huge privacy and security breaches, exposing patients to harm.

Take for example the case of an anonymous HIV testing centre. Anonymity encourages individuals to get tested without the fear of being discriminated. By law, the clinic will still report the incidence to Public Health using a number that cannot be traced back to the individual, hence ensuring anonymity and complying with Public Health regulations for communicable diseases.

Some questions to explore:

  • What happens if photos/videos of individuals waiting to get tested are made public?
  • What are the consequences on the individual’s physical and psychological health?
  • What is the impact on the clinic’s credibility?
  • How will this alter the behavior of at-risk groups that use these services?

The way Google Glass operates is “intrusive” as one may not know when and where photos/videos can be captured, as explored by TheStreet’s article.

While I am genuinely excited to test out a pair of Google Glass myself and eventually own one, I can’t help but wonder what the associated adverse events will be in a healthcare setting.