Nearly 1 out of 7 of the 7 billion people in the world have some kind of eye care problem, yet globally, there is only one eye care professional for every 15,000 people, and one ophthalmologist to treat every 23,000 people.
In countries such as France, which has many ophthalmologists with the highest level of diagnostic tools available to them, the average way to see an ophthalmologist is 3 to 6 months.
Fortunately, while there is unlikely to be a rash of newly trained ophthalmologists, technology is advancing to assist in closing the gap. In fact, if you do your search for an ophthalmologist near me, it pays when you find one that utilizes the newest diagnostics devices that could make eyecare a more convenient process.
Artificial technology is probably the biggest advance in diagnostic devices.
For example, a company called Mikajaki now makes a device that uses modern computers to not only take a full-body scan of a person, but to scan their eyes, and within 6 minutes, produce a full report for an ophthalmologist to review.
Since Eyelib, as the technology is called, does not require a licensed ophthalmologist to do the scanning, this means that an ophthalmologist can have many people scanned in a day, get the reports on them, then triage those patients in order of the likely severity of their diseases.
Similar scanning devices are popping up all over the world, and in the future, it may be possible for the average person to pop into a neighboring CVS or Walgreens, or be diagnosed at a school, rather than travel to an ophthalmologist.
Artificial intelligence is liable to completely revolutionize all aspects of eye care, in particular when the day comes that a scan of your eyes via cellphone will allow general screening of the eyes.
New measurements in corneal awareness
Perhaps the latest and the greatest eyecare devices are in the fields of pachymetry, which is the measurement of the thickness of the cornea.
Although there are expensive systems that can do a fantastic job for an ophthalmologist and produce dramatic 3d images, the favorite method now in use is
handheld sonograph machines that measure the cornea very quickly and at a fraction of the cost of huge, expensive machines.
These portable systems allow the eye care professional to accurately measure the cornea and advise patients the minute it becomes over the danger zone and may require laser surgery to make corrections.
Advancements in Laser Surgery
There is currently no other way to correct most vision problems, including cataracts, without some sort of surgery, but in 2016, the FDA approved so-called Smile surgery (SMall Incision Lenticule Extraction ) which has brought the total time spent in actual surgery down to 10 minutes.
All told, there have been a total of around 10 million eye surgeries done using traditional Lasik and Smile Surgery.
But you will walk into an ophthalmologist’s office, and have your eyes scanned with a device similar to the Eyelib device, which also has a built-in laser attached, may mean that in the not too distant future, Smile and Lasik type surgeries will take all of one minute to complete.
And while such surgeries will be supervised by an ophthalmologist, trained non-ophthalmologists may do the majority of the work, and it’s possible that as many as 10 patients at once may be treated in separate rooms.
Remote eyeglass prescriptions
This one is currently controversial. A company called Opternative, began offering online eyes screening in 2014 and has done thousands of eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions ever since.
Not surprisingly, there has been significant pushback from Ophthalmologist Societies and even some states, notably Illinois.
Their position is that while it might be possible to prescribe eyeglasses remotely, an online exam will not detect major eye problems behind the surface.
So great has been the pushback that Opernative itself now recommends that every patient get a physical eye exam at least once every two years.
That being said, with advances in cell phone photography, coupled with artificial intelligence, an almost universal recognition and reliance on remote exams via the internet (and in particular, with cell phones) is liable to occur in the future.
At its worst, perhaps, doctors, dentist offices, and local pharmacies are liable to have scanning machines in their place of business in order to scan people for eye problems.
For that matter, in the foreseeable future, optometrists, as such, may go out of business other than the business of making glasses. When you go to the doctor and you have your eyes scanned by a smart AI machine, surely doctors could read the results and then refer their patients to an ophthalmologist.
Science is marching to the aid of eye care, and there are many positive things to look forward to in the not too distant as well as the longer-term future.