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Heads up: Is HUD just what the doctor ordered?

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | December 12, 2012
This first appeared in the December 2012 IT Matters column in DOTmed Business News

Emergency room doctors often make their rounds with a stethoscope draped over their necks, but a project in a New York City hospital is investigating whether they’d like to add another, more modern bit of technology to their repertoire: a heads-up display.

The project, soon to be undertaken at Staten Island University Hospital, aims to see if an image-viewing headset could improve communications between radiologists and ER physicians while giving the latter faster access to images vital to patient care.

“As a radiologist you’re constantly faced with this task of communicating findings of something important in a patient to an ER physician,” Dr. Avez Rizvi, the leader of the project and a radiologist at the hospital, part of the Northshore- LIJ Health System, explained to DOTmed News. “When the hospital is busy and the ER is seeing hundreds of patients and we’re reading hundreds of studies, things can fall through the cracks. (So the question becomes,) how do you communicate the most important findings, like an aortic dissection, to the clinician as quickly as possible?”

“Not like anything else you’ve used”
HUDs should be familiar to science-fiction fans. Viewers of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 ultraviolent classic “Robocop,” for instance, might remember the cyborg super-cop had a built-in HUD that pointed out whether the people who stumbled into his sight were innocent Detroit civilians or drug-dealing perps.

The HUD project taking off at the Staten Island medical center is different, of course. For starters, the HUD is not cybernetically attached to the eye. Instead, the HUD is a headset, currently in the prototype phase, that the ER physicians would wear during their shifts. Made by the semiconductor company Kopin, the HUD, called Golden-i, delivers information via a single tiny projection screen that rests just below the eye.

That’s an important detail: the HUD’s screen is not a true display. Rather, it’s a mini-projector that beams the image onto the user’s retina. “It’s not like anything else you’ve used,” said Dr. David Hirschorn, an imaging informatics expert also at the Staten Island hospital who has tried out the device and is helping with the project.

Rizvi said he had the idea for introducing HUDs into medicine some time ago, even before he started his residency, as they have some practical advantages over other mobile devices. For instance, because the headset is hands-free, providers don’t have to worry about contamination. “(Doctors) don’t want to carry around an iPad, because there are sterility issues with it,” Rizvi said.

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