As always, last month's American Academy of Optometry conference showcased many of the best and brightest minds in optometry, who delivered updates on the very latest advances in clinical care and research. It's always great to end the year in sessions on the cutting edge topics that are propelling the profession forward.
Or so I thought. At a symposium on cataract and refractive surgery, I asked a few optometrists for their impressions of the program. "This is great material and it's good to be here but, honestly, this stuff is from yesteryear," a Canadian optometrist commented. "It's too bad your FDA is so slow." (He used a more colorful word, FYI.) He meant no offense, and seemed politely chagrined at the possibility—as is the Canadian way—but I could see the troubled reactions on the faces of the other ODs around the table.
Many surgical technologies stuck in FDA purgatory have been available for years in other countries. Alcon's toric multifocal IOL was launched four years ago—outside the US. It has yet to come to these shores. The AcuFocus Kamra corneal inlay for presbyopia correction launched a year later, seemingly everywhere but here. And collagen crosslinking has been a routine part of corneal ectasia management worldwide for nearly a decade, again except for one conspicuous absence.
Those are just a handful of examples, unfortunately.
The High-Tech Clinic
Fortunately, the playing field is more level for diagnostic and other clinic-based technology. In the reader survey that's part of this month's 37th annual technology report (page 40), optometrists tell us they are learning that increasing efficiency—by investing in new technology—doesn't have to mean compromising care.
"I was tired of referring patients out to other doctors … only because I did not have the proper diagnostic equipment," one optometrist says. "Not only have these purchases [of new instruments] allowed me to do that, but they have significantly improved my practice revenue. I'm taking better care of my patients than ever before."
Still, it's tough to keep up with the frenzied pace of innovation. The feature article by Amanda Legge, OD, on page 32 suggests that OCT—itself a darling of technophiles for many years—becomes even more useful to clinicians when used in conjunction with a whole host of complementary tests and technologies.
And this month's cover story reports from the research frontier on the prospects for monitoring IOP around the clock using hightech intraocular implants or contact lenses. Our glaucoma experts feel the question isn't so much, "Can it be done?" but rather, "What the heck am I supposed to do with all that data?" Prepare for the deluge when it does become a reality.
It's enough to make your head spin, if you can look up from your smartphone long enough. Oh, wait—smartphones are passé. Smartwatches are all the rage now. And did Google Glass already come and go, or is that one the next in line?
Use the Force, Doc
With gadgets so pervasive in our personal and professional lives, are we becoming too reliant on technology? How does it affect the way optometrists care for their patients? Some veteran clinicians grouse that younger ODs don't know all the nuances of how to perform a though refractive and ocular exam, worrying that the profession's traditions and shared knowledge is in danger of being lost, or at least eclipsed. There's merit to that, and it's something for colleges and their student bodies to mind.
It's easy to get swept up in the thrill of gadget fever. Clinicians and their patients owe a debt of gratitude to the amazing technological innovations that improve patient care. But maybe the answer lies in a galaxy far, far away. Star Wars is a cultural touchstone not (just) because of the whiz-bang effects and the iconic characters. It's because the message—you have the power, trust your instincts—resonates universally. All the technology in the world is useless without someone in the cockpit.
Just something to ponder as you watch the new Episode VII trailer on your smartwatch.