(PRESS RELEASE) When the auto-refractor was first introduced, many optometrists were worried this new technology would make their profession obsolete. Fast forward to 2017 and new technologies are entering the field of optometry at a dizzying pace. Today, consumers can access smart-phone apps for anything from refraction and ordering glasses and contacts online at any time of day. Optometrists find themselves at a crossroads with new technologies.

“You need to look at the disruptive technologies and understand the value they can bring to your practice,” urged Howard Purcell, OD ’84, senior vice president, Essilor of America, as he kicked off the Sunday Series CE event "Technology: Advancing the Diagnostic Focus" at New England College of Optometry on Dec. 3.

Purcell was joined at the continuing education event by Tom Petito, OD, director of professional relations, Marco Ophthalmics, and Thomas Wong, OD, chief of adult and pediatric primary care, assistant clinical professor, SUNY College of Optometry. Through a series of presentations, the group discussed the evolving trends and technology in healthcare to a packed room of NECO alumni and friends. 

Purcell presented the keynote, "The Practice of the Future," and challenged optometrists to cautiously embrace the opportunities that technology presents while still being cognizant of the issues and challenges involved. “It’s time we use technology to optimize the patient experience and a patient’s vision,” noted Purcell, explaining that people today want to be better than normal. Patients expect all professions to integrate technology into their practice to create a better user experience.  These tools can include VR, 3D printing, and instantaneous knowledge impact their patient experience in the optometrists office and at home. He explained that the future of the exam room will inevitably change, as optometrists immerse the patient in their own world to better learn about their particular needs.  He also discussed the evolution of wearable technology to bring easier ways to access increasingly complicated information and the role of telemedicine to the health care industry. 

Tim Petito, OD, and Thomas Wong, OD, discussed "The Future Eye Exam: Eye Care Analytics and Medical Imaging."  Petito presented a historical look at optometry, payment models, managed care, insurance and policies to help attendees better understand the current marketplace. He noted that the same data can be presented in different ways depending on the audience and the perspective. Moving forward, he explained that optometrists have a responsibility to take control of marketing the profession into the future as they communicate their role in overall health.  As current methods become obsolete with new technologies, optometrists can not only utilize these tools to maximize people’s optical systems, but help the consumers better understand how these improve their quality of life.

Wong encouraged the CE participants to make a paradigm shift from linear thinking to digital thinking. He noted the influx of information coming towards people and the need to sift through the data to find more efficient ways to do things. “OCTs have changed our world in terms of glaucoma care,” he explained, as well as other technologies that improve care. However, he urged optometrists to use a combination of both high tech and low tech devices, noting that quality, effective care should be the goal, regardless of the tools used. 

Despite the proliferation of new technologies, Wong echoed Purcell’s comments on maintaining the human element within the optometric practice.  “Our optometric care begins where technology ends,” he explained.  As a professor at SUNY, Wong noted how new technologies have influenced and changed how he teaches.  “Using new technologies and working with students allows me to be more problem focused,” he noted. In doing so, he has become concentrated on improving patient outcomes, recognizing that optometrists may let go of some of the traditional tests from an eye exam and focus more on the tests an individual patient really needs.  He encouraged practitioners to rethink their own optometric practices, using new and emerging refractive technologies to measure visual information, utilizing 3D imagery to see aberrations, analyzing objective data to provide better care, and ideating to understand the user experience. 

Wong and Petito led the afternoon session, "Making the Most of Technology in Eye Care." The expert panel of speakers addressed the important elements surrounding implementation of technology into a primary care practice, highlighting the importance of developing new practice management strategies to accommodate the emerging model of comprehensive care. Ultimately, the presenters reminded the attendees that optometry is a field that has always thrived on new technologies – from the development of first lenses to bifocals and contact lenses, to laser surgery and new retinal imaging tests. All three urged the optometrists in attendance to find ways to embrace the changes to meet market demand and become better practitioners.