The American Academy of Ophthalmology is embracing research into new technologies that will help its members do their work better and more efficiently, asserting that these advancements will not supplant the need for ophthalmologists themselves.
A recent study published in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, finds that Google is laying the groundwork for an automated system that can detect eye disease. And that’s good news for ophthalmologists, according to AAO.
“Diabetes is the leading cause of vision loss in working-age adults in the U.S.,” said Sunir J. Garg, MD, clinical spokesperson for AAO. “Nonetheless, a significant percentage of patients with diabetes have never had a dilated eye exam, which is the way we identify patients at risk for vision loss. If we’re able to detect diabetic eye disease early, we can prevent patients from losing vision in many cases.”
Although the technology is still in early stages and not yet ready to be used mainstream, Garg said “this holds the promise of being able to screen ophthalmic images for pathology faster, and more efficiently, than people can.”
But will these steadily improving technologies and computer algorithms put ophthalmologists out of work? Garg said no.
Instead, he said, advancements in technology are just changing the nature of what ophthalmologists do rather than eliminating their jobs.
“To the extent that our ultimate goal is to identify patients who are at risk and get them into the healthcare system, artificial intelligence may actually increase the number of patients who require care and help us identify patients who are most in need of our expertise,” Garg said. “This may help reduce the number of patients who come in unnecessarily as well.”
Plus, Garg notes that furthering the profession of ophthalmology through technological advancements is part of AAO’s mission.
“Having deep machine learning help us screen through the increasingly sophisticated and numerous images that we obtain will hopefully help us streamline our work, allowing us to focus our efforts on the patients most in need, and continue to enable us to use healthcare dollars as judiciously as possible,” he said.
More importantly, Garg said the art of medicine and the ability to heal a patient—both in body and mind—will remain a human-driven endeavor.
“Doctors need to help put the findings in context, explain the results to the patient, institute the appropriate therapy, and help the patient understand what the therapy is likely to do and how this will affect their lives and their vision in the years to come.,” he said. “As a physician, being able to tell a patient they will not go blind, and to be able to put that promise into action, is an incredible thing.”