4 Ways Artificial Intelligence Will Change How You See

AI Already Enhances Eye Care and Will Only Get Better

My last few posts have been about artificial intelligence (AI) and general health care.  But how will it affect your eye health and vision?


High Definition Vision

Years ago I tried a new lens by a company called Ophthonix.  Their iZon lens was the first of its kind.  My eyes were scanned, the data was sent to a lab, and my prescription was made with an interesting twist.  A thin layer of gel was sandwiched between two lenses, and a laser “programmed” the gel according to my eye’s measurements.  The result was the world’s first true high definition lens.

Ophthonix pioneered high definition lenses and raised the bar for the entire industry.  Now, almost every lens company offers some type of high definition lens.

I’m sad to say Ophthonix no longer exists.  The iZon lens is a distant memory.  In spite of advances in lens technology, my iZon lenses are still some of the clearest I own.

Enter AI

Just like Ophthonix did for high definition lenses, companies are bringing AI to eye care.  You can read my last two posts (here, and here) to learn a little about AI in health care.

AI starts with a massive collection of data.  That’s where the “intelligence” comes from.  And that data still must be entered into those databases.  I don’t know of any eye care AI platform that will collect its own data, yet.  But I’m sure that’s in the works too.

We already use AI in eye care, but we’re only just beginning.  Here are four ways your eye doctor might use AI to improve your eye health and vision:

  • Normative databases.  It’s a big phrase, but it just means a collection of normal test results.  Doctors can compare your test results to normal results.  For example, let’s say your eye doctor sees an irregular nerve.  She can measure the nerve with a laser scanner.  Even better, the scanner is programmed to highlight any abnormal measurements.  This technology already exists and we use it every day at LaFollette Eye Clinic.  This technology has also been added to other specialized testing we use.
  • Augmented reality.  Remember Google Glass?  We haven’t heard much about that lately.  But Google is still working on the next phase.  They want us to see and process information about people and things around us.  And they’re not alone.  PogoTec is working on their own version.  And if glasses aren’t your thing?  Samsung owns the patent for a contact lens that will take photos and project images directly into the user’s eyes.
  • Personal health care.  Contact lenses to monitor eye pressure or blood sugar levels are in the works.  This technology collects health data away from the doctor’s office.  Normative databases can help your eye doctor analyze this data too.  I predict this technology will eventually alert patients and doctors the instant measurements are abnormal.
  • Photographic AI.  Last week, I mentioned a dermatology app that maps your skin using your smart phone’s camera.  Suspicious blemishes are highlighted for you and your dermatologist.  This concept can be applied to eye care.  Software already exists that will scan retinal photographs.  It can detect diabetic retinopathy and determine whether a retinal specialist is needed.  This technology will eventually be used for other eye diseases such as macular degeneration and glaucoma.  Eye doctors will use it first, but will this technology be found in hospitals, health care kiosks, or even your own home?

It’s an exciting time to be involved in eye care.  Artificial intelligence is in its early stages.  But I expect it to improve your vision, eye health, and visual lifestyle.

Question: If you could apply AI to your health, what would you do first?  Please tell me in the comments below.


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Doctors and Computers Are Both Getting Smarter

Artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing at an astounding rate.  How will we use it for health care, and what does that mean for you as a patient?


A Prideful Doc

Have you ever met a doctor with a superiority complex?  That was me early in my career.  But I didn’t feel superior to my patients.  I felt superior to technology.

When I was a student, retinal imaging was new.  Back then, I believed photographs were secondary.  They were for recording a diagnosis, not for helping me make it.

A few years later, I got a digital retinal camera for my practice.  Soon I began to see things on the retinal images that I hadn’t seen on my own.

Talk about humbling!  I had to admit the retinal photo made my examination better.  Numerous studies now show imaging enhances retinal problems that might otherwise go undetected.

Make Way for AI

I think that’s what we’re going to discover as AI becomes more common in health care.  But doctors already seem to be taking “sides.”

Some embrace AI, thinking it will teach us a better way.  They believe doctors and AI can work together for the good of patients.

Others believe AI is a danger to patients, thinking there may be risks we’re not considering yet.  These doctors are also concerned about patient care.

There are very smart physicians on both sides of that argument, and each has good reasons to believe what they do.

But progress happens.  A digital retinal camera was only the beginning.  LaFollette Eye Clinic now has retinal laser scanning and nerve conduction testing (think EKG for the eyes).  It was the first clinic in the Southeast U.S. to offer patients multispectral imaging with the Annidis Retinal Health Analyzer.  As technology improves, we offer it to our patients.

At the rate AI is advancing, the question isn’t whether it will enhance health care, but how and when.  Here’s what I predict:

  • Algorithms will get “smarter.”  Today, AI can offer much more data than a doctor could remember or even learn.  The old adage says, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  But AI may tell doctors what they don’t know.  More data means doctors can offer better care, and our health will improve.
  • Getting care may be easier.  The tricorder XPrize will be awarded in 2017.  The winner must invent a handheld device that diagnoses thirteen health conditions and measures five vital signs.  As of this writing there are several contenders.  Is this the beginning of home care for things that used to send us to the doctor’s office?
  • AI may handle telemedicine.  If it can be written or photographed, AI will be able to make diagnoses and suggest treatment plans without the need of a doctor.  AI may still need a doctor’s guidance, but their role in patient care will change in the future.
  • Doctors will get smarter and more skilled.  Think about it.  Doctors see routine patients and common illnesses.  AI may handle these from home, at kiosks, or with non-physician health care personnel.  That frees up doctor time.  Instead of prescribing the same cream for the same rash several times per month, your dermatologist can spend more time with you.  Instead of using the same medicine for the same sneeze, your allergist may study newer techniques.  Medical students may spend less time on common ailments and more time on diseases AI can’t solve.  We may wind up with fewer general doctors and more brain surgeons, oncologists, and research physicians.

It’s an exciting time in health care.  Artificial intelligence is already helping patients and is improving quickly.  The future of AI in health care is uncertain.  But I believe it will help doctors help people live healthier lives.

Question: Do you have a doctor that already uses AI?  If so, please tell me about it in the comments below.


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Medicine Is Evolving - Will We Evolve With It?

You don’t have to love science fiction to be impressed by artificial intelligence (AI).  AI is now contributing to health care in ways that were science fiction just a few short years ago.


When AI Was Just Fantasy

Growing up, my brothers and I acted out our favorite science fiction stories.  We’d leave the ship (our house) and explore uncharted planets (the woods) carrying an assortment of blocks and sticks (ray guns).

If we had extra time and some paint, we might dress up a scrap piece of wood to look like a tricorder.

(Various types of tricorders helped the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise navigate unfamiliar territory, collect information about their surroundings, communicate with others, and check the health of those around them.)

Back then, it was child’s play.  The only limit to what our toy equipment could do was our imaginations.

The Future Is Now

Fast forward four decades.  You probably already own that device that does all those amazing things.  You may even be reading this on it.

You can ask Siri for directions or make Alexa order a pizza.  These are early and useful applications of AI.  But what about our health?  Over 100,000 apps help us sleep, eat, move, and even breathe.  But when will our smart phones and other devices actually be able to diagnose conditions and help us solve them?

Very soon, actually.

AI Today

AI in health care now involves “normative databases.”  These are collections of “normal” data.  If test results are out of the normal range, a doctor knows to investigate further.  This isn’t a new concept.

But those databases are becoming enormous.  Remember IBM’s Watson?  Watson’s AI defeated the best human Jeopardy! champions with ease.

Now, every medical textbook, research finding and test result imaginable have been loaded into Watson’s database, and it’s available to anyone who wants it.

For example, AI to assist dermatologists diagnose and treat people is already in its early stages.  There’s even a dermatology app that lets you map your own skin and alert you of potential disease.

The challenge will be stopping before letting computers make medical decisions for us.  Still, doctors may fill a different role when AI-assisted medicine becomes mainstream.  There will be turf battles between segments of the health care industry and the tech industry.

No matter where we wind up, it’s going to be a rough landing.  Here’s why:

  • Change is hard.  Medicine has been practiced the same way for centuries.  People see physicians for diagnosis, treatment, and advice.  AI may change that to something both the public and the medical community must adjust to.
  • Not Everyone Agrees.  Paranoid conspiracy theories aside, there are many people who disagree about the intellectual and ethical use of AI in health care.  There will be proponents and opponents, with very smart people on either side of the fence.  Proponents will disagree how to implement AI.  Opponents will attempt legislative actions.  It could get messy.
  • We All Need Love.  Patients and doctors both want to be needed and loved.  Your eye doctor may also be your trusted advisor, mentor, or friend.  Neither of you wants to lose that.  No one knows how AI will affect those relationships yet.
  • We’re Proud.  Physicians spend many years learning.  And although only the most naive would say their memory is better than Watson’s, it’s still hard to accept being outdone by a computer.  This sentiment alone may be a foundation for AI’s opposition.
  • We’re Scared.  We’ve all seen sci-fi movies.  No one wants AI to turn on us.  And, is your doctor scared to be replaced by a robot?  Losing relationships and income could be frightening.  Are you scared you’ll have to see a robot for your physical?  I think I might be.  Not because AI is incapable, but because the relationship would be lost.
  • Legal Issues.  If someone suffers as a result of AI, who is to blame?  The doctor?  The AI company?  Although medical AI proves to be accurate, there may still be cases like this.  It’s territory we haven’t explored before.

Although the concept of artificial intelligence has been around for decades, it’s use in health care is new.  What that means for the future of our health remains to be seen.

One thing I’m sure of though: I’m not going anywhere.  After all, even Star Trek’s tricorder needed a doctor to help.

Question: Does artificial intelligence in health care excite or scare you?  Please leave a comment below.


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