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Winter 2023

Op Ed: The Interface of AI Technology and Optometry Is Here


Sheila Quirke

Earlier this year, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” won the Academy Award for Best Picture. That seems fitting in this moment where the confluence of AI, artificial intelligence, and healthcare feels similarly frenetic. It can absolutely feel like everything is shifting everywhere in healthcare all at once right now, thanks to quickly evolving technology powered by AI that increasingly impacts both patients and providers. 

It can also feel like things are just as they have been. Students are being educated for careers in optometry, patients continue to rely upon ODs to meet their vision needs, and optometrists across the country are doing their level best to keep up with demand in a field that is the primary provider of eye care in America.

Both of these things can be true simultaneously. 

Industry experts estimate that more progress has been made within AI in the past ten months than in the previous ten years combined.

While many in the field of optometry may not be attune to or plugged into the shifting landscape and increased presence of AI within the field, others are keenly aware and working hard to ensure that technological advances are being made that enhance patient care outcomes as they lift the administrative and clinical burdens of providers in a responsible and ethical manner.

As a legacy academic institution, ICO is uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between the old guard of tech and this new landscape of AI that is rapidly becoming a fixture within healthcare and many other industries. For the ICO alumni base, students, staff, and faculty, understanding where the field is and where it is moving in terms of AI is essential.

AI Is Already Here

Whether it is realized or not, AI is already part of many people’s day-to-day activities. Google maps get people where they need to go, often changing course in real time using AI. Facial recognition unlocks access to smartphones using AI. Even that common end-of-day ritual of kicking back and relaxing with a streaming service recommendation of what to watch on TV is a function powered by AI. 

AI is becoming more common in the optometry field, just as it is in other spaces. Computerized algorithms are currently in use at the Illinois Eye Institute, providing assistance with records management, billing, and scheduling of appointments. The tech infrastructure was introduced three to four years ago to good effect, lightening the load of staff and providers to better meet patient needs.

On the clinical side, AI has been enlisted in the diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy and other eye disorders via optical coherence tomography (OCT). The algorithms unlocked by AI are consistently refined and growing more powerful and accurate, enabling early diagnosis – sometimes even before symptoms emerge. Early detection, of course, is directly related to better care and outcomes for patients.

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