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The Future of Eye Care is the Patient

November 17, 2021 | By Dr. Debi Sarma

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The American Academy of Optometry (AAO) 2021 meeting was held in Boston in November, and I have never been more excited to connect with other experts from across the country and discuss the industry’s most important topics. Some of my favorite sessions included topics around racial bias in healthcare with Dr. Beverly Tatum, PhD, and the Innovation Symposium featuring panelists Dr. Dimitri Azar, MD of Twenty/Twenty Therapeutics, Dr. John Gelles, OD of The Corena and Laser Eye Institute, Dr. Peter Kehoe, OD, President of Kehoe Eye Care, and Dr. Michael Twa, OD, Dean and Professor at University of Houston College of Optometry

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Dr. Debi Sarma, OD at Academy 2021

Inspired by a few of my takeaways at the conference along with my experience in patient care and clinical programs, I outlined some trends in healthcare that we can expect going into 2022 and beyond. Spoiler alert: the patient is at the center of everything! 

Innovation is speeding up and the end-users are in the driver’s seat. 

The world is innovating at an exponential rate and many companies are struggling to keep up. What used to take years to develop now only takes weeks. This trend is especially important for industries that may view change as a burden rather than a step in the right direction for efficiency.

Not only is the rate at which processes and technology are improving is increasing, but the end-user (the patient) is leading the charge. For example, optometrists have a tendency to steer patients away from on-demand online eyewear services because they understandably want their patients to continue working with their practice from exam to purchase. However, in today’s world, patients seek convenience, and calling up their optometrist to order their next contact subscription may no longer fit their expectations.  

Instead of resisting convenience, we have the opportunity to embrace what’s working now for the sake of better patient care. The consequences of not innovating at the same rate as the patient are too costly, especially when that means losing connections with them. 

Recommended reading: Telehealth: How 2020 On-site is Making Vision Care and Clinical Research More Accessible

Technology is getting smaller and more efficient. 

As with dozens of other industries, optometry is seeing huge improvements in technology that is increasing efficiency and improving the patient experience — more specifically, the future of patient care is wearable technology that can seamlessly integrate into the patient's life.

During one panel discussion at AAO, we learned about new contact lens technology that dispenses ocular medications and can also monitor patients in real-time. With little or no effort from the patient, this technology allows for doctors to better understand their patient’s condition, improve medication adherence, and act preventatively when it comes to changes in their patient’s health. 

Things are getting smaller in order to better adapt to the lives of patients (and not the other way around!). For example, technology will allow us to monitor patients in their natural environments, away from the exam rooms, when their vision condition may not be flaring up or present. As leaders in the industry, we have the opportunity to adapt to the technology and improve the continuity of care even when we’re not in the same room as our patients.  

When thinking about the technology inside an exam room or onboard our mobile vision clinics, there are endless opportunities to replace our oversized, expensive specialty testing equipment for more compact care solutions. Companies have been using virtual reality products like the Oculus machine for gaming solutions, however, could it also be adapted for the patient care experience? Patients can put on a headset and get their eye exam done virtually — the possibilities for more efficient treatments are endless. 

IMG_1684 2Inside Academy 2021 in Boston.

The way we communicate with patients is changing. 

Along with technology adapting constantly, the way we communicate with our patients is also changing. Throughout my years in optometry, I’ve noticed a trend with some of my patients: they have a lot of guilt in the way they take care of themselves. For instance, when I begin an exam with the classic question “How can I help you today?”, they typically respond with a confession of things they’ve done wrong: I don’t change my contacts as frequently as I should...I haven’t gotten a new prescription in a while…

The days of directive patient care, where what the doctor says is the “end all be all,” are coming to an end. Patients want a doctor they can trust, who listens and is willing to make them feel good about their health choices.

The future of the doctor-patient relationship lies in empathy. Something that, so far, machine learning has not been able to master. The best and most successful doctors will need to harness strong listening skills that allow us to live in the patient’s journey, walk alongside them, and help discover health alternatives that fit their lifestyle.

Get ready for a global medical community. 

In a world that is constantly becoming more connected, the only logical path forward is an online global community that shares medical breakthroughs and insights for the benefit of patients everywhere. 

Imagine a future where images and conditions can be uploaded into one database and a primary care doctor can explore relevant information to determine a more accurate diagnosis. This innovation would be helpful in so many areas, including clinical trials, where physicians can get alerted to relevant life-saving studies for their patients. 

While data privacy will always be at the forefront of our innovations, patient convenience, like getting access to a diagnosis faster, will be a top priority. Connecting the world in a medical community will provide more perspectives to diagnoses and treatment, allowing doctors to make more educated treatment and management plans that improve the health outcomes for the communities that they serve. 

Final thoughts 

I feel so fortunate to be able to attend conferences like AAO 2021 where eye care professionals can share their experiences and learn new (and better) ways of treating patients. The world we live in is rapidly changing, and I’m excited to see the progress 2020 On-site makes in the months and years ahead. 

If you’d like to get in touch to see how we can help put your patients at the center of your clinical program, get in touch with us today

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