How Google Glass could make medicine’s speediest response teams even faster


Each time Crystal Law found herself zipping through Boston in the back of an ambulance, the EMT wished for one thing: A reliable way to inform emergency room staff about the patient she was bringing them. 

Law, a civil engineering graduate from MIT, would call a hospital to report information, but she found there was no quick and reliable way to record vitals, symptoms, and procedures so that hospital staff could access those details when they took over. So she decided to create an app to fix the problem.

The same hurdles in emergency response brought YiDing Yu, a doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, to the Brigham and Women’s hackathon last September. Law was there too. Spotting each other across the room after a pitch session, the two decided to join forces.

Six months later, after more than a hundred interviews with EMTs and emergency room staff, the two founders have Twiage, a HIPAA-compliant app for Android and Google Glass, up and running. Along the way, the duo have been through the BluePrint accelerator in the New York City and are finalists in the Mass Challenge contest this year.


Now, in collaboration with the South Shore hospital, two EMTs are testing Twiage on Nexus 5 smartphones. The app also works with Google Glass. Testing began four weeks ago and will run for two months. The current goal is to measure how much time—and one day lives—that Twiage can save.

Hoisted into the back of an ambulance with a patient, an EMT can use Twiage to record vital signs, take an EKG, and securely transmit that data to the hospital. All the information is time-stamped.

Another neat feature of the app is that it tells the hospital how quickly a serious trauma case is approaching. A more accurate time of arrival helps, sent by geo-tagged updates every 30 seconds, helps staff plan a more efficient response.

“It [sounds] like they’re right on target,” says Paul Szotek, an Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital trauma surgeon who uses Google Glass and is not involved with the Twiage team. Because he is stationed in a rural area of Indiana, he says he’s lost patients because he wasn’t involved from the beginning.

Szotek, who uses Google Glass in surgery as an educational tool, is excited about its potential in triage scenarios and is working on his own app to make the device field-friendly.

Along with an EMT team, he tested it on the ground at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But he found that over the din of racing motors, Glass wouldn’t listen to shouted commands.

So Szotek’s system allows dispatch officers and hospitals to remotely turn on and control Glass apps worn by EMTs on the ground, serving as a second set of eyes. The system lets viewers switch between EMTs. It works, he says, but because it isn’t HIPAA compliant yet, he’s testing it in the cadaver lab and using it to teach.

Back in Boston, the Twiage team could soon have company. Chicago resident Dan Herbstman’s Third Eye Health is working on an app that lets EMTs—or hospital staff with access—review information that was collected on the run. The idea is to allow hospital staff to perform a remote consult on a patient before they arrive at the hospital. 3rd Sight Health is pilot-testing its HIPAA-compliant app in hospitals in Chicago and is in talks with others in Boston and Texas.

Images via Twiage

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at
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