Maria Znamenska

Ph.D. Ophthalmology

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9 min read

In the next two decades, we can expect to see a paradigm shift in the way optometry is practiced. Advances in new technology in optometry, such as AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning, and virtual and augmented reality, are expected to revolutionize the way optometrists diagnose, manage, and treat eye-related problems. For example, smart contact lenses that can monitor blood sugar levels for diabetic patients or detect early signs of glaucoma are already in development, and they could become mainstream within the next 20 years.

technology in optometry

In addition to optometry technology advancements, changes in demographics will also play a significant role in shaping the future of optometry. The aging population will require more specialized eye care, particularly for conditions such as macular degeneration and cataracts, which are more prevalent in older adults. The rise of chronic diseases such as diabetes will also increase the demand for optometric services, especially in developing countries where access to healthcare is limited.

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The future of new technology in optometry is exciting and holds great promise for patients and practitioners alike. In this article, we will explore some of the potential changes that ODs may face in the coming years, based on the survey that we have conducted.

New technology in optometry: AI is here to help

In the next 20 years, the technology in optometry will be represented by AI and is expected to revolutionize the field in several areas. Here are some ways AI is already helping optometry:

  • Diagnosis and treatment. AI algorithms can analyze large amounts of patient data and provide accurate and fast diagnoses of eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration. AI could also help in designing personalized treatment plans for individual patients.
  • Screening and monitoring. AI-powered optometry technology could help specialists to screen patients for eye diseases more accurately and quickly. For example, a patient could take a picture of their eyes with their smartphone and an AI algorithm could analyze the image for signs of eye disease. AI could also help in monitoring the progression of eye diseases over time.

technology in optometry

  • Enhance patient care. AI-powered tools could help ODs to provide more personalized and comprehensive care to their patients. For example, AI technology in optometry could help in selecting the most suitable eyeglasses or contact lenses for a patient based on their unique vision needs and lifestyle factors.
  • Research and development. AI could help optometrists in developing new treatments for eye diseases. By analyzing large amounts of patient data, AI algorithms could identify new patterns and potential treatments for eye diseases.

In addition, the implementation of AI in optometry technology can present various prospects for improving clinic operations, simplifying billing procedures, accelerating the input of EHRs (electronic health records), optimizing claims management, and boosting cash flow. As high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) gain popularity among employers and patients, revenue cycle management can be seamlessly integrated with AI technology, considering the increasing number of patients defaulting on their medical bill payments.

technology in optometry

Altho artificial intelligence is about to bring significant changes to the industry, it is important to remember that the effectiveness of AI is limited to tasks that it has been specifically trained to perform, while it may not perform well in areas outside its training. 

Therefore, it is crucial to focus on enhancing ODs’ proficiency in utilizing AI instead of worrying about the possibility of job replacement. The integration of AI technology in optometry provides specialists with an opportunity to enhance patient outcomes on a global scale.

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To be proficient in utilizing cutting-edge technologies, ODs specialists must possess critical thinking skills and the ability to manage complex cases in real-time. Additionally, communication skills are also essential, including cultural sensitivity, multilingualism, and familiarity with alternative communication platforms such as mobile technology. These skills will be particularly important for optometry specialists from 2040.

technology in optometry

Overall, AI has the potential to greatly improve the accuracy and speed of diagnosing and treating eye diseases, leading to better patient outcomes and a more efficient healthcare system.

The evolution of OD and MD roles

Back in 2019, Richard C. Edlow, OD, claimed that nearly 20mln more routine and medical eye exams will be required in 2025 compared to 2015. The volume of surgery that will be required for the aging US population will increase as well. What is more, the number of cataract surgical procedures will also significantly increase — from 3.6 million in 2015 to 5 million in 2025. Add here the fact that the number of ophthalmologists will increase by only 2.1% in this same period. 

Given these facts, in the not-too-distant future, ophthalmologists will need to focus on surgical procedures, while optometrists will provide more medical care.

technology in optometry

The field of ophthalmology must be fully prepared to meet the huge and growing demand for surgical procedures and therapeutic intravitreal injections. This brings us to the fact that the field of optometry, in turn, must be ready to manage the ever-increasing demand for medical ophthalmic services.

The roles of OD and MD are changing as with the advent of electronic healthcare, ophthalmologists are already spending more time on the computer instead of providing proper patient care. The ability to use innovative technologies, digital thought processes and critical thinking will create new opportunities in eye care as optometrists are moving further towards ‘data analysis’ and away from ‘data collection’. OD specialists must ensure that they are properly trained in new technology in optometry and its advances to enhance, not inhibit, the quality of patient care.

technology in optometry

It is also worth mentioning that despite the speed of new technology in optometry, the human relationship between patient and doctor remains the most powerful tool. To properly care for patients, ODs will need more than clinical skills, knowledge, or the latest technological advances. Patients need thoughtful, professional, kind, trusting, understanding, and caring optometrists.

As technology advances, there will also be changes in optometry education. There may be more need for data analysis, less need for data collection, and an increased need for interpersonal skills (such as empathy, compassion, and bedside manner).

The role of OCT technology in optometry

OCT has become an important diagnostic tool for the detection and treatment of various eye diseases, such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. The ability of OCT to obtain high-resolution cross-sectional images of the retina and optic nerve will broaden the horizons of optometry technology and help optometrists detect and track changes in ocular structures that may not be visible during the normal eye examination. 

As technology advances and the use of AI and imaging techniques increases, the demand for OCT in the field of optometry is expected to continue to grow.

technology in optometry

Here are some ways in which optometrists will benefit from implementing OCT in their practice:

  • Improved diagnosis. OCT provides highly detailed images of the structures of the eye, allowing ODs to detect and diagnose eye conditions much earlier than with traditional methods. In fact, OCT is also called an optical retinal biopsy. This method makes it possible to examine 18 zones of the retina and detect minor or rare pathologies. This enables optometrists to provide timely treatment and prevent further damage to the eye. 
  • Better management of eye diseases. OCT allows optometrists to monitor the progression of eye diseases such as glaucoma, ARMD, and diabetic retinopathy by taking detailed retinal images. It helps to determine the severity and stage of the disease, compare images after examination with documented results, and track disease progression. Moreover, with OCT examinations, ODs can also monitor the same patient to choose the most accurate diagnosis.
  • Enhanced patient care. OCT is a non-invasive and painless procedure that is easy for patients to undergo. It uses safe laser light, avoiding all the side effects or risks. As the procedure is comfortable and effortless both for the ODs and patients, it helps to build stronger relationships by providing a less intimidating experience than other examinations.
  • Increased revenue. Offering OCT in their practice can provide optometrists with an additional revenue stream, as they can charge for the procedure and use it to attract new patients.

Summing up, implementing OCT in their practice can help optometrists provide better patient care, improve their diagnostic accuracy, and increase revenue.

Focusing on myopia management

According to a survey conducted by the American Optometrists Association, nearly 70% of optometrists reported an increase in patient requests for myopia treatment in the last two years. Myopia is a rapidly growing problem worldwide. Only in the USA, it is predicted that by 2050 the number of patients will increase to 49.8%. As unfortunate as it may be, such a global epidemic of myopia will undoubtedly create an opportunity to expand the practice of specialized treatment.

technology in optometry

In the future, optometrists may manage myopia using a combination of approaches, and one of the most discussed is orthokeratology (ortho-K). This non-surgical approach that involves wearing specially designed contact lenses has been used to reduce the degree of myopia since the 1960s. Although this method is not new in optometry practice, many companies are still working hard to create new approaches and upgrade them. For example, 2 years ago, Johnson & Johnson Vision announced FDA approval of its Acuvue Abiliti Overnight Therapeutic Lenses for the management of myopia. That same year, CooperVision announced that its Procornea DreamLite night lenses for ortho-k had received the CE Mark from European regulators for slowing the progression of myopia in children and young adults. 

Overall, the future of myopia management in optometry is likely to involve a personalized, multi-faceted approach that combines various strategies to reduce the progression of myopia and improve vision.

Game-changing contact lenses

In the research published in Advanced Materials Technologies, was claimed that in the near future, contact lens sensors can be used to monitor many common diseases. The fact is that in the lacrimal fluid, there are biomarkers, the presence of which will make it possible to create diagnostic contact lenses. Such lenses would analyze these biomarkers and detect and treat systemic and ocular diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and dry eye syndrome.

It is predicted that in the near future, lenses will be able to monitor intraocular pressure, detect glaucoma, and even create images of retinal vessels for early detection of hypertension, stroke, and diabetes. For patients with diabetes, these lenses would be incredibly useful because of the measurement of blood glucose levels. Some companies, like Google, have already dedicated years to creating such lenses. Nowadays, scientists are even working on lenses that change color to alert about changes in glucose levels.

technology in optometry

However, according to Advanced Intelligent Systems, one of the limitations of these lenses to date is that they can typically only detect one biomarker in the eye, such as glucose or lactic acid. Lenses capable of detecting multiple chemical components are predicted to be developed in the future.

Summing up

Predicting the exact way optometry practices will look in 20 years is challenging, as technological advancements and societal changes can rapidly alter the way healthcare is delivered. However, in this article, we tried to predict ​​some potential trends and developments that could shape optometry practices in the next 20 years based on the opinion of the leading experts in the industry. 

To put it simply, AI and technology will slowly gain popularity among eye care specialists. However, in 2040 artificial intelligence and machine learning still will be only an assistant, while ODs will be responsible for the diagnosis and treatment. 

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This brings to the forefront the important principles of patient education, empathy, and personal contact with patients (virtue ethics). Innovations in technology should allow ODs to have more personal contact and more time to improve outcomes for patients-not to improve productivity.

In addition, optometric education will need to address these interpersonal skills so future generations of ODs are able to adequately educate patients on findings and ensure the quality of care.

There will always be a business of health care, but the challenge for the optometric profession is for ODs to place the well-being of all patients as their first priority.