The role of technology is steadily growing, with notable changes constantly occurring in the healthcare space. In vision care, everything is trending toward digital. For example, patients often use chatbots for intake, replacing the tedious piles of paperwork previously required. And futuristic-sounding tech, such as augmented reality glasses, is becoming more common.
This technology transformation is all about improving the patient experience and expanding access to care. But it’s easy to feel uncomfortable when artificial intelligence (AI) is brought into the equation. Will AI in optometry and eye care replace human practitioners? Will it negatively impact the patient experience or increase patient risk?
In this article, we’ll examine the role of AI in vision. Because the more you know about the benefits and potential concerns, the better prepared you’ll be for the future.
What is AI?
Artificial intelligence is the ability of machines to use data to solve problems and complete tasks that used to be the sole domain of humans. These systems look at enormous amounts of data that have been tagged with certain features to derive crucial information. For example, think about when you take a photo with your smartphone. With AI, everything in that photo is automatically tagged, from the faces of people pictured to the scenery behind them. Then editing programs on your phone can perform advanced functions like removing subjects, changing lighting, and correcting blurriness.
The human eye presents a prime opportunity for AI assistance, as it is the only organ you can look through to see what’s happening in the body without going in with instrumentation. Pictures taken of a patient’s eye are studied and tagged, and then AI assigns them to different diseases (with a correct recognition rate up to 90%).
The benefits of AI in eye care
Applied to the vision world, AI is capturing and centralizing patient data to provide more holistic care and services. Leveraging this kind of technology increases the accuracy and speed of diagnostic processes. As Eric Topol, a prominent AI researcher and practicing doctor, explains:
“The promise of artificial intelligence in medicine is to provide composite, panoramic views of individuals’ medical data; to improve decision making; to avoid errors such as misdiagnosis and unnecessary procedures; to help in the ordering and interpretation of appropriate tests; and to recommend treatment.”
Sounds compelling, right? It makes the eye care professional’s job easier and provides immense value to patients.
For a practical example, imagine a patient comes into your clinic with a large file of referrals from doctors and an expansive electronic medical record (EMR) with their history from the last 10 years. You might scan this information quickly, potentially missing something. Or you could spend a couple of hours reading every line. With the right AI installed on your EMR, the important data would be highlighted immediately, allowing you to focus your energy on the patient interaction instead of digging through data.
Here are a few exciting examples of AI in optometry:
- Customizing intake questions based on patient responses that better inform practitioners. Rather than just asking basic questions, the programs know how to ask follow-up questions and get the most important information.
- Helping providers to prioritize care based on the level of need. These advanced triage programs instantly sort out patients in the best order for everyone.
- Delivering detailed information to help patients better understand their care and treatment options. Patients usually go to Google to ask questions and get healthcare information, often leaving them feeling lost and confused. Using AI enables the data to be sorted out and delivered in a way that’s clearer and helps them to take correct action.
Thanks to AI-facilitated remote consultations, access to care is improving. People who live in regions that don’t have clinics with the right specialists or proper instruments can now get crucial care. This leads to earlier disease detection and more informed treatment, as AI analyzes large amounts of patient data for a more personalized healthcare experience.
Will AI replace humans in healthcare?
While AI in eye care is enhancing and streamlining the patient experience, it isn’t coming at the expense of anyone’s job. These specialized tools work best when complementing the skills and experience of practitioners. They take our intelligence, which is our greatest ability, and help us to make more efficient use of it.
At the same time, patients increasingly prefer to go to clinics using state-of-the-art tech and receiving a more personalized experience. It’s safe to say that while AI will not replace practitioners, practitioners who use AI will replace practitioners who don’t use AI.
The key to effectively leveraging the power of AI within your organization is to account for foundational needs and engage in change management. This starts with outlining your goals and then acquiring infrastructure that supports them.
You’ll also need to focus on change management. Everyone in your clinic should understand how to utilize the relevant tools, why they are important to their jobs, and how to take full advantage of the benefits.
The future of AI in optometry
While AI has lots of potential to improve healthcare, it comes with limitations and ethical considerations. For example, what if the interpretation of symptoms yields an inaccurate diagnosis? Regulation and protocols are needed to ensure devices that use AI are trained properly. And optometrists must review the data to confirm the conclusions make sense.
Attention must also be given to data privacy. With so many data coming in from various sources, organizations must invest in the technology needed to keep it secure. Only then will their patients be able to confidently fill out digital intake forms and participate in remote consultations.
We should proceed with care, one step at a time, and not be afraid to adopt new technologies. Assisted by AI, we can improve vision testing, eye exams, diagnostics, and so much more. Not only will these advances make our lives easier, but they’ll provide the quality experiences that build long-term patient loyalty.
Learn more about the benefits of AI in vision and eye care by watching this webinar. Hosted by Ofer Limon, Luna’s head of research and technology, and Ofer Ancri, Luna’s chief clinical officer, it features real-world examples of AI in action.
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