Highlight 1 From 100% Optical – Artificial Intelligence

100% Optical marked its fifth anniversary at Excel London over the weekend this year! As an undergrad optometry student, I certainly didn’t regret travelling all the way down south to attend the event. Below is one of the highlights from the event you definitely would not want to miss:

Artificial intelligence is rapidly coming of age

Talks on artificial intelligence have been on the rise as the technology has paved its way towards a myriad of industries. And as much as you would not want to believe, artificial intelligence is no longer a thing of science fiction fantasies. AI has already been used in numerous applications particularly in the healthcare industry such as drug discovery, improving diagnosis and making treatments more efficient.

Closer to home, Kuala Lumpur has VERY RECENTLY (at the time of writing) adopted the smart city artificial intelligence platform which runs on Alibaba’s cloud infrastructure. As a result, we will see the operational efficiencies of a city with a population of over 7 million to be improved tremendously over the next few years.

Artificial intelligence (AI) in optometry

Artificial intelligence is making its way not only into other industries, but also into the field of optometry. Sameer Trikha, an ophthalmologist, spoke of how artificial intelligence could support eye care professionals in making clinical decisions. According to him, we are near the crossroads where we have to either embrace AI or fall out of favour eventually.

This is particularly evident when Visulytix, an AI company specializes in developing ophthalmic deep learning machines is slated to receive CE mark approval in April 2018.

There are companies like Visulytix that have developed AI that’s capable of screening for eye diseases like diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration by analysing the fundus (the back of the eye) of a patient.

The million-dollar question – the future of optometry

Sameer said that the pace of AI evolution is phenomenal. Hence, it is surely just a matter of time before practitioners have to embrace AI in their practices. He also stated that the current artificial intelligence has as high amount of the expertise as a top-notch ophthalmic surgeon in picking up certain eye diseases.

What if Artificial intelligence has the skills to eventually diagnose every eye disease? Does not it mean that primary health care providers like optometrists will no longer be needed if that actually happens? Although it sounds incredibly surreal, Moorfield Eye Hospital had already started embracing AI all the way back in 2016!

On the future practice of optometry, Sameer believed that artificial intelligence would not wipe out the profession altogether. In fact, forward-thinking optometrists would work with AI to more accurately pick up eye diseases and minimize the possibility of missing something bad in the eyes.

After all, we still need optometrists to inform patients of the state of their eye health. We can’t just let a robot, regardless of how sophisticatedly its built to act or sound more like human, to tell you that have cataract. In my humble opinion, patients would be reluctant to buy into that. There’s always a human-to-human interaction element in whatever industries you are in.

Take Whataspp as an example, the company would never worth as much as it’s now if there’s absolutely no element of human interaction at the core of its functionality. In fact, people value social media and messaging app like Facebook and Whataspp because they bring human interaction to a whole new level.

However, there’s still a possibility, however small, that optometrists could be made redundant if we allow ourselves to be the ones who merely collect data. For instance, if we limit ourselves to just carrying out refraction and checking for any eye abnormalities, from the back to the front of the eye, and think to ourselves, ‘Hmm, there’s something weird going on at the back of the eye’, our job is at stake. This is because there’s no reason that artificial intelligence can never be that smart to do every aforementioned thing.

This is why, throughout the century, optometry has evolved from just refraction to that of at the forefront of eye care when new technologies (auto-refractor etc.) arrived. In recent years, the scope of optometry has included some aspect of secondary eye care like treating certain eye diseases using medicinal eye drops in some developed countries.

As Dr Peter Hampson put it, “If we allow our role to be simply one of data gathering, then we are expendable – and we could be witnessing the slow death of the profession”, we can’t afford to just stay at where we are at right now.

Malaysia Oh Malaysia

The advent of artificial intelligence may not have as big of an impact on the eye care sector in Malaysia yet, but we can’t be blind to the fact that there’s a huge gap between the primary and secondary eye care in the country.

We therefore need to take enforcing regulations concerning eye care very seriously. We simply can’t afford to see people having to lose part or all of their eyesight due to a lack of awareness of the importance of a routine eye exam. On the other hand, optometrists in the country need to ramp up their efforts in endeavouring to provide holistic primary eye care to the general public.

No man is an island. This is especially true when it comes to eye care. Optometrists need to work HAND IN HAND with ophthalmologists and dispensing opticians to deliver the best possible eye care services to the public.

It’s a real shame some people have to go through sight loss because the eye care system has failed them. Primary eye care providers like optometrists need to be empowered and given the appropriate platform to enable them to do what they are TRAINED TO DO.

To be continued…

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