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The Potential of Artificial Intelligence in Optometry

Artificial intelligence is a branch of computer science that uses various techniques that aim to mirror human intelligence. One AI technique is machine learning, which relies on vast data sets to learn and predict results without human intervention.

Artificial intelligence has slowly made its way to optometry as well. It is unlikely that it will ever replace an optometrist but instead has the potential to ease their jobs. This doesn’t mean that robots will be running around in our healthcare facilities, but rather AI focuses on a large amount of patient data to give insight into diagnosis and treatment methods.

Let’s look at how it has the potential to change an optometrist’s practice.

Streamline management

Many software is coming to the market that provides autonomous management of tasks related to patients. Repetitive tasks like scheduling, billing, and follow-ups can be done on the fly and updated as new information is received. This improves organizational productivity for many optometry practices, making them more efficient, and leaves more focus on patient care.

Early detection

One of AI’s advantages is that it can process vast amounts of data more quickly as a computer is doing most of the legwork. This especially comes in handy when processing optical coherence tomography (OCT) images, retinal images and dry eye. It can look for patterns within these images that optometrists might miss because of the subjective nature by which these images are analyzed.

Diabetic retinopathy

Machine learning can monitor these images over time and see if any changes are occurring that lead to eye diseases that manifest progressively. FDA-approved AI systems are already appearing on the market that analyze fundus photography to detect elements of diabetic retinopathy such as hemorrhages, aneurysms, and other lesions. It can detect these changes early on, leading optometrists to formulate a health plan with the patient. Additionally, this system requires minimal training and can outperform humans.

Glaucoma

The technology is currently in its early stages to detect other ocular diseases such as glaucoma by fundus photographs, optical coherence tomography (OCT), and visual fields. It is beneficial for open-angle glaucoma cases where symptoms don’t typically exhibit themselves. Since glaucoma can’t be cured, early detection may help manage the disease to prevent it from getting worse to the point of blindness.

Dry Eye

New technology has emerged in the Dry eye arena. Advanced Opthalmic Systems.

When it comes to talking to patients about their dry eye disease, a picture is worth a thousand words. Conversations become easier when you can show a patient an image of their ocular surface. Suddenly it all clicks. (Pun intended) AOS is one company that takes it a step further with innovative technology. The platform automatically grades an image for Bulbar Redness, Injection and Lid Redness. In Staining mode the software counts punctate of a fluorescein image. It can also convert a fluorescein image into 2D and 3D which brings a real wow factor.

The images show patients proof of their condition and the analysis provides context. It’s much like the difference between stating a fact and telling a story. We can now give meaning to symptoms felt and seen in the eye. And it’s especially useful for assessing progress during follow up appointments. Lower redness numbers or lower punctate counts tell me and the patient we are on the right track. AOS analysis improves patient education which helps boost compliance. Better compliance leads to better outcomes and that leads to happy, loyal patients.

Reduce false positives

False positives occur when a test result shows that a disease is present when it is not in reality. Here AI can help as well. By looking at vast amounts of medical data regarding symptoms that a patient presents, it can predict the likelihood of a disease or condition is present.

This helps the patient from any unnecessary discomfort in terms of added consultations to their optometrist or an ophthalmologist, saves their time, and saves money on any unnecessary medication they may require.

Artificial intelligence is showing its potential in many medical fields other than optometry, like oncology, dermatology, pharmacology, and genetics. Though still in its infancy, improvements in this technology will help doctors verify their diagnoses and interpret data faster independently. This does not mean that a doctor’s work will become redundant, as AI algorithms are not yet 100% accurate. There will cases when a doctor’s insight will be invaluable in diagnosing diseases. It can be considered a tool to their advantage.

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