For SCCO’s optometry applicant interview days, we invite parents and guests to accompany the applicants. They are invited to a general campus tour, hands-on preview of our new virtual learning technology, lunch reception, student panel presentation, presentation from SCCO’s dean, Dr. Stanley Woo about our program’s benefits, and then finishing up with a mixer involving current students and faculty.
It was during the mixer that a parent of one of the applicant’s asked me if he could ask a question that was perhaps considered too hostile or inappropriate should he have asked it during the informational interactive presentation by Dean Woo. Understandably, I was concerned to take the question, but I am so glad I did…
He asked, What’s the probability, in the future, of computers and artificial intelligence replacing optometrists?”
I love to answer that question.
Most who would ask this question have encountered optometry purely from the standpoint of being a refractionist or technician (i.e. “Which is better, one or two?”). However, a person who, as a result of a routine exam, who has had an optometrist play a key role in diagnosing either a serious ocular or systemic disease would never ask such a question.
Based on his query, I was able to have an informative conversation with this concerned parent, providing enough evidence to ease his mind. Of course he doesn’t want his daughter to invest her agency in a profession that will be obsolete in the near future. I get that.
I explained how optometry is stepping up to be the primary entry point into the health care system for anything related to the eye, whether it be a problem that requires corrective lenses or a more serious underlying diagnosis of ocular or systemic disease. A computer or artificial intelligence could not hear a patient’s symptoms, ask follow-up questions, interpret the context of those symptoms, and then perform the required assessment leading to a comprehensive diagnosis. Nope! If that true that optometrists could be replaced by a computer or AI, physicians would have already been replaced by Web MD. Even aside from the requirement that one must be a licensed professional doctor to issue a doctor’s order for prescriptions or further diagnosis and treatment, our system requires the autonomy of a doctor’s expertise to make clinical decisions and stand behind them. Am I on a soapbox? Perhaps I digress, so…
Back to the reason why I am reblogging this article.
Optometrists will never be replaced by technology because they perform professional services that technology can not. ASCO’s latest blog article, “An Optometrist Saved My Vision,” is a story of how a patient’s optometrist diagnosed a true retinal emergency (don’t want to be a spoiler here and ruin the drama, so you’ll have to read the article to know more). Because this patient had an established doctor-patient relationship, he was able to get an emergency appointment with his optometrist who after a thorough exam, knew exactly what course of emergency care needed to be initiated. For most pre-optometry students, this is not news; however, for some of their parents, it just will be!
Yep, this article perfectly illustrates why we as optometrists will not be replaced by computers or artificial intelligence anytime soon.