Medical student’s startup uses Google Glass to improve patient-physician relationship

On a break from medical school, Pelu Tran makes Forbes list of 30-under-30 as a health-care entrepreneur.

Pelu Tran is the co-founder of a company that helps doctors with patient record-keeping via Google Glass.
Courtesy of Augmedix

Firsthand experience working in hospitals and clinics helped inspire third-year Stanford medical student Pelu Tran to explore a potential career path in the world of high-tech startups.

Tran began to realize just how much the daily grind of record-keeping cuts into the physician-patient relationship after his second year of medical school in the summer of 2012, when he started rotations and began caring for patients. Late that summer, he co-founded Augmedix, a company designed to automate the record-keeping process that eats up as much as 35 percent of a physician’s day, Tran said. In the spring of 2013, he took a leave of absence from school to work full time on the startup.

“Medical students go into medicine being very passionate about patient care,” said Tran, 26, who co-founded the company with Stanford MBA graduate Ian Shakil. “When you start to see all the paperwork, the documentation, the billing coding, it leaves little time for the patient-physician relationship.”

Recently named to Forbes’ “30-Under-30: Healthcare” — a list of 30 leaders in health care under the age of 30 — Tran now spends his days working in a loft in San Francisco, managing dozens of employees when he’s not flying to places like Beijing to raise more venture capital for the growing company. Total funding has now reached $23 million.

Using Google Glass

Contracting with Google Glass, Augmedix provides the much-publicized Internet-connected headgear, which looks and feels like a pair of eyeglasses, to doctors on a monthly subscription basis. Physicians wear the headgear during appointments with patients and can use verbal cues to instantly access a patient’s electronic medical records. A thumbnail-sized screen appears in the corner of the right eye of the device, which also has a camera and a microphone. The patient-doctor conversation is live-streamed to Augmedix where, with a combination of software and human support, notes are created and entered into the patient’s electronic medical records according to the doctor’s preferences, Tran said. When the doctor’s visit is complete, so is the record-keeping.

The whole goal is to remove the hassle of paperwork, of documentation, from the physician.

Currently, the service is in use in 35 clinics across 11 states, Tran said, and that number is growing. Google recently announced that sales of Google Glass have been halted to consumers. But Google siad it will continue to contract use of the technology with companies like Augmedix that have found a specialized use for the glasses.

“The whole goal is to remove the hassle of paperwork, of documentation, from the physician,” Tran said. “We do that by giving them Google Glass. When they wear it they can stream the conversation directly to our service, and it gets documented into their electronic medical records.”

According to Tran, physicians who use the service have been able to reduce the number of hours spent record-keeping from an average of 17 a week down to just two — or even fewer. “It literally changes the lives of the doctors we work with,” he said. “They’re getting back 15 hours a week to spend with family, with friends, with patients, to provide care. That is the whole point.”

The company’s beginnings

The concept for the company grew out of a friendship between Tran and Shakil, 30, who initially met as students in a Biodesign class at Stanford. Tran, who has an undergraduate degree from Stanford in mechanical engineering, took the course during his second year of medical school. That following summer, the two continued to get together informally on campus and discuss the future of health care.

The biggest problem in health care is really that health care is no longer about care.

“One morning we had a chance to try on a prototype of Google Glass,” Tran said. “We thought, wow, this actually works. Our second thought was that this really would be great for health care somehow. We just didn’t know how yet.

“We discussed it, and there was this kind of  ‘aha’ moment. The biggest problem in health care is really that health care is no longer about care. It’s about everything but health care. The physician-patient relationship is kind of an afterthought.”

Early concerns that patient-privacy issues might prove a stumbling block to providing the service have essentially been erased over the year and a half since it’s been used in doctors’ offices, Tran said.

Patients are asked at the front desk prior to meeting with their physicians if they want to use the service. So far, there has been a 99 percent acceptance rate, Tran said.

“As a patient, you want to spend some time with your physicians,” Tran said. “Imagine if you can spend 15 minutes straight with eye-to-eye contact and have a deep, meaningful conversation with your physician.”

Tran does eventually plan to return to medical school, but exactly when is still up in the air.

“As much as I love medicine, I think that the opportunity to make an impact is greater for me with Augmedix right now. I want to see it through. Having a strong, fundamental understanding of health care is important in a field like this. I know what doctors need, but more importantly I know what doctors don’t need, and they don’t need 17 hours a week of documentation.”


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