The other day I was reading The Washington Post about the use of iPads to detect glaucoma. Why is this important? For starters, you may be reading this post, and have glaucoma. I know this sounds like an alarming statement, but glaucoma is a neurodegenerative eye disease affecting more than 2.2 million people in the U.S. alone. It is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Sadly, because most forms of glaucoma are symptom free, only about half of those affected by glaucoma actually know they have it. Glaucoma is not curable, and even with treatment, about 10% of patients will continue to have vision loss.
The Evolution of Technology’s Role in Vision
What drew me to becoming an eye surgeon, in part, was the the use of technology to help diagnose and treat eye diseases. Over the last half century, the influence of technology has driven innovations in the field of ophthalmology. From using ultrasound to perform cataract surgery, to using near-infrared light waves to image the back of the eye, to using lasers to treat diabetes, ophthalmologists have been early adopters in technology.
One area that hasn’t evolved at a rapid pace in ophthalmology is the use of software to diagnose eye conditions. If you have had an eye exam within the past twenty years, you probably performed an eye test where you click a mouse each time you see a light flicker across a screen. This eye test is called automated perimetry, and is a test of your peripheral vision, typically used to detect the presence of glaucoma. These tests are conducted in an office based setting, using expensive hardware equipment and glaucoma detection software that was developed over twenty years ago with minimal modifications. Given the rapid development and iteration of software in other areas of ophthalmology, including electronic medical records, there is a need for similar advancements in the area of visual diagnostics.
Mobile Technology and the Future of Vision Testing
Moving eye exams from the physician’s office to your living room – This is the new reality. Mobile devices, the smart phones and tablets we use daily, are able to tell you the weather, the time, and the best place to get a lambchop in New Zealand, so the thought of being able to get information about your health shouldn’t be mind-bending. Currently, wearable sensors working in unison with mobile apps can gauge your sleep cycle, your heart rate, and other data points. This data can be extracted and modeled to give you feedback on how fast your metabolism is or the quality of your sleep. Eye tracking is one of the darlings in the wearable sensor space, and as the article in The Washington Post mentions, can be used with mobile apps to test for eye conditions, such as glaucoma. The researchers in this article are studying the eye movements of glaucoma patients vs. the eye movements of healthy subjects, when both groups look at similar images, to detect and model eye movement patterns specific to glaucoma patients. Though this research is in it’s early stages, it’s promising. However, eye tracking is the tip of the iceberg for vision testing.
The term vision testing conjures up the image of struggling through a series of eye tests, and trying to remember is “number one or two better”. What if you didn’t have to be “tested”, but get information about your eye health? What if you could improve aspects of your eye performance or know when the best time to take a break from your mobile device or laptop? If you are a parent, I am sure you are wondering what all this technology is doing to your child’s eyes.
Along with eye tracking, there are other biometrics used to measure eye function. At Vizzario, we are creating technology to allow your apps and games to be visually intelligent, to allow you to know how your vision is doing, based on the visual demands of your life. The goal of Vision Intelligent technology is to rediscover and redefine vision, allowing you to interact with your vision in a whole new way.
Till next time,