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Winter 2023

Revolutionizing Optometry


Nora Matland

This November, ICO held its very first Ophthalmic Technology and Innovation Summit. Recognizing the changing landscape of optometry, ICO took the initiative to expose students to the rapid changes within the field and prepare them for the future of optometry. Supported by our corporate sponsors, the summit featured plenary talks, product theatre sessions and even a mix-and-mingle event at the end of the night.

With so much evolving and changing in this space, we wanted to provide you with a few takeaways from the plenary sessions. Here we will focus on telehealth and AI:

Tele-Optometry: Improving Patient Outreach and Access to Care

Takeaway #1: Remote analysis of both refractive and accommodative testing is feasible.

In May 2021, five ICO doctors took on the challenge of integrating tele-optometry into the curriculum. Since 2021, these faculty members have been examining patients two days a week with fourth-year externs. Over the last two years, these doctors have proven that most routine exams, including prescribing contact lenses, can be effectively done in a remote environment.

Tapping into the power of AI algorithms allows for detailed insights into ocular conditions, leading to more accurate and consistent diagnoses and tailored treatment plans. 

Takeaway #2: You need well-trained technicians to ensure that patients can be effectively diagnosed.

The demand for remote care and tele-optometry is rising; especially in rural areas where there may not be a nearby optometrist. There, optometric testing stations fill a clear gap. In these places, technicians play a critical role in conducting fundus images and entrance testing. In order to train these technicians, our doctors collaborated with the communications team to create short instructive videos to ensure the correct testing technique. Once the technicians were properly trained, diagnosis became much more efficient.

In this way, our doctors have been able to ensure the safety and effectiveness of remote examinations.

Takeaway #3: Tele-optometry has “hard-stops” which requires a patient to see an optometrist in person.

Remote exams have proven to be effective in many areas, however, the team has also implemented a system of “hard stops” when potential ocular and systemic diseases are found. These include, among other things, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, keratoconus, and many other diseases that require a more extensive in-person exam.

Luckily, in most cases, there is a built-in referral network, so patients can be directed to an in-person doctor.


To continue advancing our profession, it is incumbent upon us to test and to incorporate new practice methods and modalities. We're excited to be implementing these new developments into the ICO curriculum and to see how these advances will shape the future of how we deliver care.

AI: Using Diagnostic Equipment to Identify Markers of Health

For the next talk, we focused on the integration of AI tools. Ali Tafreshi, President of the Innovation Center at Topcon, walked us through how optometry and healthcare overlap. He emphasized ICO’s pivotal role in training optometrists, and the importance of understanding the new data this technology can create. Here are a few takeaways from his talk:

Takeaway #1: Optometry is at the forefront of not only eye care, but healthcare in general.

As optometrists, we have access to so much information about the human body. Not only that, because of the frequency with which patients interact with optometrists, we are often the first to identify important underlying diseases. There is already a vast amount of data generated from the diagnostic tests that we do, and AI will help us use that data to improve the health of our patients. Tapping into the power of AI algorithms allows for detailed insights into ocular conditions, leading to more accurate and consistent diagnoses and tailored treatment plans. When we integrate a doctor's knowledge with the large and complex datasets that AI can process, we can unlock all kinds of new discoveries. Topcon is working to merge these two fields and to build models that predict systemic cardiovascular and neurological diseases, all through an eye exam.

Takeaway #2: AI-Enabled decision data boards will identify risk factors even before they are visible to the native eye.

AI processes huge amounts of data and finds patterns that we, as humans, are unable to detect. In the last few years, researchers have been working on ocular imaging biomarkers that can provide significant insight into systemic diseases. Multi-omics provide a holistic understanding of a patient's health through non-invasive imaging of the eye. Currently, Topcon is working on digital risk calculators that will be introduced as AI-enabled tools that enhance decision making in various aspects of optometry. These tools should enable doctors to treat beyond healthcare silos.

The convergence of tele-optometry and AI at ICO signals a shift in optometric care, where technology and practice overlap for the benefit of patients. As ICO continues to pioneer these advancements, the institution will guide the profession towards a future where optimal patient care is pushed beyond today’s limits.

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