The Doctor Will Really See You Now

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

– William Shakespeare

In our respective tragedies/comedies (depending on the moment), some individuals are better actors, revealing and hiding emotions with relative ease, portraying exactly the “I” that is scripted in their minds. Others, such as those who turn red at the slightest bit of discomfort, may try as they might but eventually have to give in to the transparency of their physiology.

Well, the playing (acting) field may have just been evened.

MIT’s Media Lab has engineered a remarkable pair of glasses “that are set to transform how we interact with each other” by accurately detecting very subtle facial cues that would be otherwise missed. The initial concept was born with the intention of helping people with autism pick up on these cues.

Inside the glasses is a camera the size of a rice grain connected to a wire snaking down to a piece of dedicated computing machinery about the size of a deck of cards. The camera tracks 24 “feature points” on your conversation partner’s face, and software developed by Picard analyses their myriad micro-expressions, how often they appear and for how long. It then compares that data with its bank of known expressions(see diagram).

From New Scientist

Roger Ebert (on Twitter) says, “These spectacles could destroy social life as we know it. And diplomacy.” But just imagine the possibilities within a doctor-patient interaction if a doctor could more easily detect skepticism or hope or fear or frustration. Perhaps, the use of these “social x-ray specs” would be limited in the case of a highly botox-ed face, but for the majority of patients, it could potentially enhance doctor-patient communication.

So, I say, “Where can I get one of these?”

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9 thoughts on “The Doctor Will Really See You Now

  1. So many of us who invest our time within Social Media and Health Care circles, are open to the possibilities that technology can help enhance patient care and satisfaction. It’s important to make sure we also have a firm boundary between the benefits of technology and the benefits we can gain from physicians who practice as you say “the human side of medicine.”

    If Physicians ever became totally dependent upon
    then perhaps they might need another piece of equipment to understand how to help patients once they were able to see the human emotions.

    A Barry Schwartz remarked in his TED Talk The real crisis?
    We stopped being wise:

    A Wise person is made not born.

    I’m hopeful that with the increased emphasis on patient satisfaction that Simulation Labs will continue to use professional actors to play the part of patients. Medical students can learn from these experiences and then I hope will be placed with physicians like yourself who are wise and know how to creative relationships so you are able to see emotions from your patients not only with your eyes but know how to also listen and respond with your heart and soul.

  2. Great post! The very thought of these glasses gives me a huge chuckle! Particularly regarding the ability to detect patient skepticism. It might be rather alarming — but edifying — for doctors & other clinicians to realize just how often our patients think we are utterly full of baloney. I work as a physical therapist in home care, a field in which almost every single new patient looks at me with profound skepticism, a look that says, “I’ve just had major surgery, I’m in pain & feel like crap, and you want me to get up & do WHAT??” But I’ve learned that if I give them permission to be skeptical, acknowledge it & even laugh with them about it, ultimately we are able to develop a plan of care that they will own more thoroughly & thus comply with better. And they will also be more honest with me when problems arise. Simple acknowledgement, validation & humor go a long way to improving my patients’ ability to trust me, which enables me to treat them more effectively. Might work better than high-tech glasses, I think, and perhaps is much more to the point.

  3. Wow, I’m deeply appreciative of how you’ve taken serious consideration to a far-out idea here. I LOVE this stuff, maybe more for the questions it raises than the actual implications of such glasses. (Do you really think this is feasible? I’m not a cynic, but holy moley, this would really be quite something.)

    I’m particularly sympathetic with the need to read emotional cues, specifically its import with gaining the trust of, and then motivating, patients. Any tools that will help are awesome.

    (This reminds me of Paul Ekman’s work with F.A.C.E. Training, or reading thoughts through specific facial movements- are you familiar with this stuff? )


    • I, too, tend to be fascinated more by the questions these technologies raise, more the actual use of them.
      So many things are unspoken in a doctor’s office that may affect comprehensive care, particularly when a doctor is not paying attention (i.e. when rushed to see x-number of patients in a day). In that way, I find the idea of these glasses quite enticing. However, I don’t know that this technology is realistic for a regular doctor-patient interaction today. The glasses may be overly distracting for patients, for one thing.
      I am not familiar with F.A.C.E. training, but as described in a previous comment to Jan Henderson, maybe that’s not a bad idea for physicians.
      Thanks so much for your comment.

  4. I’m not so sure I’d want my doctor to have one of these. 🙂

    There was an article in New Scientist recently about new neurotechnology that allows the communication of thoughts without speaking. The research is being done to help those with locked-in syndrome. The science is interesting – trying to discover how the brain generates thoughts before they’re translated into words. But in the wrong hands, what happens to the mystery – not to mention privacy – of life?

    The glasses remind me of those experts at facial cues who assist in the selection juries for a trial. Evidently it’s a skill one can learn.

    • I agree with you on preserving the “mystery ” and privacy of life. Unfortunately, it is often the case that technology develops faster than our ability to use it ethically and with a consciousness/awareness of the long-term effects on society as a whole. Sex selection in India is one example that comes to mind ( Are we not asking the right questions when developing new technology? Are we simply chasing the dollar signs?

      You bring up another good point in your comment – perhaps doctors should be specifically trained to read facial cues. But I couldn’t help but wonder if this technology could enhance the doctor-patient interaction (as limited as it is today by time and other constraints), thereby improving healthcare.

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