The first time I heard about Evena Medical’s new computer-powered glasses, I immediately thought of two obvious user groups for them. Nurses, and vampires.
Good thing vampires aren’t real.
If you’re looking for veins, Evena’s glasses can reveal them with a high-tech 3D light imaging system that maps the body’s vasculature. Nurses, unlike vampires, have a humane and compelling need for a better view of all those blood vessels lying beneath the skin. One of their most common tasks is to set up an intravenous line so that patients can receive fluids containing drugs or nourishment, or so blood can be drawn for diagnosis. But finding and correctly piercing a vein with a needle can be a sticky job.
“It’s a simple procedure, but not an easy procedure,” Evena CEO Frank Ball told me.
Ball didn’t need to persuade me of that much. As one of those people with tiny, elusive veins, I am the bane of the LabCorp technicians when I go in for occasional blood tests. But until I talked to Ball, I didn’t realize how complex and thorny a practice it is to gain intravenous access in many kinds of patients.
Nurses care for very ill people whose veins have already been frequently punctured, babies with minuscule veins, and very heavy patients whose veins are particularly hard to find. Evena estimates that in 60 percent of children and 40 percent of adults, nurses have to try more than once to access a vein. Sometimes the vein that’s easiest to find isn’t the best one to use, Ball said.
“It could be a large vein that has poor flow,” Ball said. Delays in establishing an IV line, or failures of compromised veins, can interfere with treatment and cause serious complications.
And then there’s long-term treatment strategy. For people such as diabetics, nurses want to preserve certain veins for the day when the patient may need dialysis. Ball says Evena’s glasses can reveal other veins as alternatives.
Los Altos, CA-based Evena has figured out how to use light at certain wavelengths to visualize the blood flowing through the veins—which amounts to a picture of the vessels themselves. When a nurse wearing the Evena Eyes-On Glasses looks at a patient’s arm, built-in cameras capture images of the veins, peering past the skin layer.
A computer in the device integrates the images generated using four different wavelengths. Evena doesn’t reveal the exact wavelengths, but they include the near infrared part of the spectrum. The device is tuned to detect only veins, while dialing out arteries. The computer projects a 3D view of the vasculature onto the clear lenses of the Evena glasses. But wearers can still look past the transparent “vein map” before their eyes, and see what’s going on in the room.
“A nurse likes to see the patient’s eyes,” Ball said.
Evena had been working on the glasses for some time, Ball told me, but the 9-employee company had a breakthrough last May when it teamed up with Epson, maker of the Moverio “smart glasses” platform used by developers of augmented reality games.
When Ball and Evena’s chief financial officer David Gruebele talked to me recently, they were taking a breather from a two-month whirlwind of tech and healthcare conferences where the first public demos of the Eyes-On glasses drew a flurry of news stories. Gruebele says the tech watchers were excited to see one of the first medical applications of an imaging gizmo usually confined to consumer-oriented gamer products.
“Augmented reality becomes a life-saving, medical computing platform,” Gruebele said.
The Evena demo team were frequently asked to describe the difference between the Eyes-On glasses and Google Glass, the tech giant’s wearable Web interface. As Ball explains it, Evena’s eyewear projects the image of the veins front and center in the user’s near field of view, while Google’s headset shows … Next Page »
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