Machine Learning and New Tech Lead the Way in Eye Care

In a groundbreaking survey published in the Journal of Optometry in 2022, it was revealed that a significant majority of optometrists, or 72%, believe that artificial intelligence (AI) will enhance the practice of optometry. These professionals envisioned various roles for AI in the future of eye care, from disease screening (86.8%) to monitoring disease progression (69.0%) and even diagnosis (35.3%). This resounding endorsement underscores the optimism within the optometric community regarding AI’s capacity to revolutionise the field.

As we delve into the modern landscape of eye care, it becomes increasingly evident that these visionary beliefs are not mere speculations. The realms of machine learning (ML) and emerging technologies are witnessing remarkable strides, translating many of these optimistic projections into tangible advancements.

Artificial intelligence

In 2024, AI and ML are no longer just theoretical concepts. They are actively changing the landscape of many fields, including retail. However, it is also disrupting eye care, with applications that promise to enhance diagnostics, streamline processes, and bridge critical gaps in patient care.

A noteworthy example of this paradigm shift comes from AEYE Health, a leading AI company for retinal-based diagnostics. In January 2023, the corporation unveiled an AI machine learning model with the remarkable ability to predict the development of referable diabetic retinopathy. Here, the AI model leverages machine learning algorithms to analyse retinal images, extracting subtle cues and indicators that might escape the human eye. Unlike traditional methods that rely on the presence of symptoms, this AI model can foresee the development of diabetic retinopathy before any diagnosable signs emerge.

The implications of such technology are profound, especially in addressing the prevalent care gaps in eye health. Currently, less than 50% of patients undergo the recommended yearly retinal screenings, potentially missing critical indicators of emerging conditions. By predicting the development of diabetic retinopathy in asymptomatic individuals, the AI model paves the way for screening guidelines that go beyond a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, the guidelines could be tailored to reflect individual risk factors, allowing for personalised risk management strategies and laying the foundation for a future where predictive diagnostics and personalised care are the norm rather than the exception.

Virtual and augmented reality

Moving beyond AI, the transformative impact of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in eye care is rewriting the narrative of patient engagement, diagnostic precision, and professional training. An exemplary use case in this domain comes from eyewear retail.

Many prominent retailers have embraced AR to elevate the eyeglass shopping experience. See the virtual try-on feature of Vision Express, which allows customers to seamlessly test the fit and appearance of its range of sunglasses from the comfort of their homes, whether it’s the Tiffany & Co 4148 or the best-selling RB3547 from Ray-Ban. The intricate workings of this AR technology involve a sophisticated virtual overlay that accurately portrays how different frames complement the wearer’s facial features.

This not only enhances the online shopping experience but also empowers individuals to make more informed decisions regarding their eyewear choices, naturally directing interested eyewear customers to the retailer’s comprehensive eye exams. The integration of these immersive technologies in preventive care aligns with broader industry trends or developments in customised vision correction, seamless telemedicine integration, and early disease detection. Here, Magic Leap stands out as a leading patent filer in the AR/VR optometry space, alongside industry giants Microsoft, Sony Group, and Samsung Group. These technology pioneers are not just setting the pace — they are driving innovations that promise to reshape the future of eye care.

By embracing these technologies, optometrists are ushering in an era of personalised and efficient eye care that goes beyond traditional boundaries, setting new standards for preventive screening and patient outcomes

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