The World Health Organization estimates the number of those suffering from blindness or vision impairment at 2.2 billion people globally. Around half of these cases could’ve been prevented or are yet to be addressed. The cost of addressing the unmet needs of people with vision impairment is estimated at a whopping US$ 24.8 billion. At the same time, global productivity losses caused by vision impairment are much more significant: WHO estimates those at US$ 410.7 billion.
Those numbers could decrease in the future as ophthalmology, the field dedicated to the study and treatment of eye disorders is constantly evolving with the advancements in medical technology. Right now there are tons of barriers that limit one’s accessibility to eye treatment: from the high costs of receiving eye care to the distance between the clinician and patient and everything in between: including an insufficient number of qualified professionals to get treatment all the patients, communications limitations, and others.
As technology continues to progress, it is revolutionizing the way eye care professionals diagnose and treat various eye conditions. We as a custom software development company are at the forefront of studying how tech could help with certain issues. Ophthalmology is no exception to improvement via tech. In this blog post, we will explore the key technological advancements that are shaping the future of ophthalmology, how they do it, and whether are they worthy of investment.
Technologies and Their Improvement of Ophthalmology
There’s a “standard” set of technologies that are being mentioned on every healthcare trend list and are not exclusive to ophthalmology either. So we’re going to list “the usual” guests on that list: telemedicine, AI, VR, and robotics, and explore the ways they’re effective at the moment.
Telemedicine has transformed the healthcare industry, and ophthalmology is no exception. The practice of providing eye care remotely opened new possibilities for reaching patients in rural areas and those with limited access to specialized eye care facilities. Teleophthalmology closes the distance gap by virtually connecting patients and healthcare providers and is especially helpful in low-income and middle-income countries. It also expands to the concept of tele-education. Some current programs include training that prepares local doctors and technicians to triage treatment-requiring cases and does other useful things.
One of the outstanding projects in the field is The Zimbabwe Retinopathy Telemedicine Project (ZRTP). They implemented regular diabetic retinopathy (DR) screening at a hospital-based diabetic clinic in Harare, the urban capital city of Zimbabwe. To capture retina images of 203 diabetic patients, a handheld ‘point and shoot’ digital camera operated by a trained nurse was utilized. The images were securely shared and transferred to a remote retinal specialist using a ‘store-and-forward’ approach for analysis. As a result of this method, ZRTP successfully identified various eye conditions among the screened patients. Non-macular DR was detected in 11% of the cases, diabetic macular edema in 5%, cataracts in 5%, and glaucoma in 6%. This demonstrated the effectiveness of teleophthalmology in providing routine retinal screening for diabetic patients in Zimbabwe, particularly those with limited access to conventional eye care services.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has shown immense potential in transforming ophthalmic care. AI algorithms can analyze vast amounts of patient data to detect patterns and trends that may not be immediately apparent to the human eye. This technology assists ophthalmologists in making accurate diagnoses, predicting disease progression, and recommending personalized treatment plans. AI will play a pivotal role in identifying patients who may respond positively or negatively to specific eye treatments, relying on their medical history, clinical genetics, and diagnostic images to make accurate predictions.
Virtual Reality (VR) Training
y reported that residents trained with virtual reality had a 48% improvement in surgical performance compared to traditional methods.
VR simulations offer a realistic and immersive learning environment, allowing medical professionals to practice surgical techniques and refine their skills without putting real patients at risk. Alcon, a subsidiary of the renowned pharmaceutical company Novartis, employs education grants to develop virtual reality content for educational purposes. During previous annual meetings, the company showcased a VR simulation of an eyeball, where individuals can immerse themselves and explore the internal structures of the eye.
VR is revolutionizing the practice and procedures of ophthalmologists, offering a wide array of possibilities ranging from remote access to healthcare services at home to innovative approaches in the operating room. However, there are challenges to overcome, including simulator sickness, similar to motion sickness, concerns about data privacy during transmission, and the need for thorough validation of the technology’s benefits.
Robotics in Ophthalmic Surgery
Robotic-assisted surgery in ophthalmology enhances the precision and dexterity of surgical procedures, reducing the risk of human error and optimizing surgical outcomes. Robots can perform delicate maneuvers with unmatched accuracy, making them valuable tools in complex eye surgeries. The true potential of robotics in intraocular surgical applications lies in the ability to develop procedures that can significantly improve or save sight, surpassing the capabilities of human surgeons.
There might be other yet undiscovered possibilities waiting to be unveiled. Numerous studies have shown that enhanced tool precision can minimize anatomical damage and lead to better surgical outcomes in clinical settings. Additionally, the prospect of enabling entirely new surgical techniques not commonly practiced today is not far-fetched.
However, before intraocular surgical robotic systems become widely used in operating rooms or the offices of practitioners, improvements to existing systems and gaining acceptance in general practice are essential. It is crucial to ensure that these robotic systems meet the required standards, deliver consistent results, and are widely accepted and trusted by the medical community.
That can’t be reached by software that supports robots in ophthalmology. Ophthalmic surgery involves integrating real-time imaging technologies into the surgical process. Software algorithms process the visual data captured by high-resolution cameras and display it on the surgeon’s screen with enhanced details. Software in ophthalmic surgical robotics is designed with safety features that prevent potential errors or dangerous movements. It is undeniably important that software for robots corresponds to the quality of hardware products to avoid errors leading to disasters.
Distant Future: Bionic Eyes, Cyborgisation, and 3D Printing
Dr. Bertalan Mesko in his publication for The Medical Futurist pointed out several interesting insights and took a look in a far future for eye care and tech. Here are some key takeaways.
Pioneers of the field did good but forfeited in the long game. Dr. Mesko mentions Second Sight, Retina Implant AG, and Pixium Vision which were impressive in developing and utilizing tech for eye care innovations, but none of them remained in the game. These pioneering companies have developed innovative solutions, such as implantable visual prosthetics and bionic eyes, to restore vision to the blind. However, they’ve lost in competition with the new players in the market.
Research is ongoing in developing bionic eyes with fractal-patterned electrodes and artificial retinas to restore vision for individuals with eye conditions. Researchers from the University of Washington have successfully developed a contact lens featuring an integrated LED display, which was 3D-printed for its creation.
3D-printed lenses don’t seem to be highly controversial, but ethical considerations arise as technology becomes more integrated with the human body, leading to discussions about cyborgization. Augmented reality apps and AI algorithms are being used to detect eye conditions, educate patients, and improve diagnostics for conditions like diabetic retinopathy worldwide. We’ve briefly mentioned it in the previous section, so we won’t dwell on AI and AR/VR achievements too much.
However, it’s worth mentioning that the capabilities of deep learning software are outstanding. The deep-learning algorithm demonstrated an impressive ability to identify diabetic retinopathy, a condition that poses a threat to vision, with a high accuracy rate of 94.7%. It also showed a sensitivity of 91.4% in detecting the presence of the disease and a specificity of 95.4% in accurately ruling out the condition.
If we’re speaking about ophthalmological software startups that are disrupting the future of ophthalmology, Aryballe Technologies, Visulytix, and Notal Vision have to be mentioned as they use AI models and software for diagnostics.
Aryballe works in medical diagnostics, including the early detection of ocular diseases through breath analysis. Visulytix developed software for analyzing medical imaging data in ophthalmology. Notal Vision develops telemedicine solutions as well as software analytics for monitoring age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other retinal diseases.
There are tons of noteworthy software companies in the field, most of them in the field of diagnostics, but there are certain niches that are being addressed less frequently and aren’t that competitive. If you’re looking forward to entering the game and looking for a software vendor with experienced in developing healthcare software, contact Elinext.
2.2 billion people worldwide suffer from vision impairment, with 1 billion cases being preventable or treatable. The future of ophthalmology is destined to change and lower those numbers with the help of continuous advancements in medical technology. The scope of technologies involved is quite broad, and the result is impressive, to say the least. Residents trained with virtual reality had a 48% improvement in surgical performance compared to traditional methods. The development of artificial retinas and bionic eyes continues to advance. Robot-assisted surgery for certain retinal conditions achieved a 95% success rate, showing the potential for improved precision and outcomes. By investing in these transformative technologies and addressing the barriers to accessibility, we can work towards reducing the staggering global productivity losses caused by vision impairment and improving the quality of life for millions of people worldwide.