Among the tech elite, Google Glass is a sleek symbol of minimalist, futuristic cool.

But several startups see deeper potential in Glass: the ability to heal wounds and save lives.

Pristine in Los Angeles makes the app EyeSight, which enables physicians and nurses to transmit live video and audio of wound patients from Glass to authorized computers, smartphones and tablets. After months of a pilot program at UC Irvine, the startup said this week it will soon roll out the technology at outpatient wound care clinics operated by Wound Care Advantage in Southern California.

"We're really using this primarily as a tool, to help people connect where it was either not possible or practical before," said Kyle Samani, CEO of Pristine, which started last spring in Austin, Texas. "If, for whatever reason, the doctor is not physically here, we'll find the next best way to get him here."

For decades, telemedicine has been slowly working its way into the doctor's office in the form of desktops, laptops, digital cameras, tablets and other gadgets. Now comes Glass, which Google plans to make available to the public this year. And Pristine isn't the only company seeking to capitalize on the device's Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, camera and voice activation in the medical world.

Augmedix, founded by two former Stanford University students, is working on a system that would roughly translate information from Glass' audiovisual stream directly into a patient's medical record. Healium, co-founded by a Mill Valley doctor, is also developing an app that would let doctors share patient information through Glass.

Linking Patients, Experts

In Pristine's case, a nurse will use Glass to stream a video of a patient's wound to a doctor, who will then decide whether he or she should examine the injury in person, said Mike Comer, CEO of Wound Care Advantage. The company operates or helps run wound care clinics in hospitals, which involves providing equipment and hiring and training personnel to deal with chronic injuries.

"It's a way for us to bring experts to patients very quickly, very seamlessly," Comer said.

Chronic wounds, a market worth $25 billion, offer a particularly promising opportunity for Glass because patients need constant monitoring and outpatient care. About 6.5 million patients in the United States suffer from the condition, according to the National Institutes of Health. These wounds, such as diabetic ulcers and venous ulcers, can take more than six weeks to heal.

Since October, Pristine has been testing EyeSight through a pilot program with surgeons and anesthesiologists at UC Irvine.

Dr. Leslie Garson, one of the anesthesiologists, said Glass has proved useful during the 15 or so surgeries he has worked on so far, especially because he often monitors two or even three surgeries simultaneously.

"A resident could have Google Glass on, they could be looking at a monitor, and I could have a tablet down the hall and could see exactly what they're seeing," he said. "They can send me an alert - 'Take a look at this,' 'Is this something I should be concerned about?' "

Still, Glass, like any new technology, has skeptics.

San Jose Doctor Skeptical

Dr. Peter Schubart, director of the Wound Care Clinic at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose, doesn't see a great advantage in Glass. Schubart and his staff constantly take digital photographs of wounds and upload them to the electronic medical record system. It takes all of 20 seconds, he said. He also wonders if insurers and Medicare will still compensate him if he determined, by way of Glass, that a patient didn't require in-person treatment. Under health care reform, Samani said insurers will increasingly pay for quality of care instead of the standard fee-for-service model.

Consumer advocates have also raised concerns that hackers might steal sensitive patient information. To allay those fears, Pristine executives say the company offers the only commercially available Glass software that complies with the federal government's strict rules on patient privacy. EyeSight's encrypted video stream is strictly live, Samani said.

"Videos are not being saved, not even for a microsecond," he said. "We don't want anyone to feel the world is watching."

Over the long term, Pristine plans to bring Glass into intensive-care units, emergency rooms and ambulances. Samani wouldn't disclose how much it costs for hospitals to sign up but believes Glass offers plenty of opportunities in health care. Over the next month, wound care centers of three hospitals, including the University of Southern California's Verdugo Hills Hospital, will use the device.

Even Schubart, the skeptic, said he will keep an open mind about the new technology.

"I've learned to never say never," he said.

©2014 the San Francisco Chronicle