Some things naturally fit together such as Ginger and Fred, champagne and Paris, or DNA and coding. Other things may not have an obvious fit but once brought together are symbiotic and nestle together perfectly like science and philosophy or chocolate and salt.
Or, eye health and technology.
Research in scientific discovery can be exhilarating. Without doubt, breakthroughs in patient treatments because of said research can be awe-inspiring. Over the past decade, abrupt bursts in technological advancements have dramatically impacted the process of scientific discovery as well as of information sharing. People spend fewer hours thumbing through dusty volumes tucked away in musty libraries because technology facilitates their research process through a curious little mechanism called the computer. In addition, information is no longer only nectar reserved for academics based in urban areas, where libraries are copious, because technology democratizes the research process.
This revolutionary ease of access to information is positive, yet has one caveat: people do not always know how to interpret, share, or use the information they find, and as a result, the information disseminated by individuals or marketed by small companies in virtual communities is exaggerated or simply false. Said misuse of information and technology alike, generates dangerous quick fix remedies coupled with false hope for patients. As such, a more balanced approach to the use of technology and information sharing is needed. So to this end, how can we marry eye health and technology so that their relationship flourishes, collaboration grows, and information is responsibly vetted and shared?
There is more to be done, however. Patients and practitioners alike have launched a number of forums and websites dealing with ocular health, hoping to facilitate access to consolidated information on symptoms and potential treatments. In order to achieve said sharing, practitioners need to leverage technology to communicate with one another as well as with patients. In other words, how can we reach the most doctors in order to reach the most patients?’ For many doctors, dealing with dry eye is overwhelming since there is not currently a <em>handbook </em>that guides diagnoses and treatment for a disease that is not black or white but rather, several shades of gray. In addition, many doctors do not want to deal with this constantly squirming and evolving complicated disease – since dry eye is not generally categorized or known as a vision-threatening disease, many practitioners ignore or wait until a patient is highly symptomatic, which will complicate treatment. In turn, patients are extremely frustrated, as they suffer for a disproportionate period of time before being diagnosed, let alone treated and they turn to alternate information sources. It is hoped that the soon to be published TFOS DEWS II will make information digestible and comprehensible for both the doctors and patients, and in turn facilitate diagnosis and treatment.
In the theme of information sharing, doctor turned entrepreneur, Whitney Hauser has a particular focus on the coupling of dry eye education and technology. When looking at technology, Dr. Hauser suggests, “Technology isn’t just a mechanism to search for information. At its best, it provides an interrelation between individuals, society and life. The exchange of information shouldn’t be a competitive arena. It’s an opportunity to elevate care of patients worldwide.” Ultimately, the success of most anything is correlated to the relationships curated. Until the advent of the Internet, relationships were built slowly but in our current environment, people tweet, blog, FB, and, Instagram their way to both nurture relationships and build business empires. Whilst the Internet has the potential to be a great sharing space, it is simultaneously and dangerously compromising outlet of idea generation and poaching. Pro-actively confronting this issue, Dr. Hauser recently launched the new ECP focused educational website http://dryeyecoach.com. With this information-disseminating platform, she leverages technology in order to “empower eye care providers with the knowledge and tools necessary to treat dry eye disease in any practice, at any budget” by sharing short videos on the latest trend in dry eye management. Leaders in dry eye disease, from both optometry and ophthalmology, will record videos, “providing concise instruction and a network of resources for doctors and staff.”
Beyond Dry Eye Coach, what would be the ultimate success in marrying eye health care and technology? Telemedicine. Many advocates pushing forward change in the occasionally sluggish ocular health care practice are pushing forward telemedicine, arguing that this benefits a busy urban practice in the United States as much as a clinic in a rural area – remember, the Internet does not have borders. In order to best treat a patient, a practitioner needs to principally focus only on his or her history and symptoms, information gathered through communication between the two parties. Whilst leaving your village doctor, lollipop in hand, is extremely soothing, this model is less relevant for both doctor and patient. Telemedicine was “made for dry-eye” confirms Dr. Hauser. Since the original TFOS DEWS Report was published in 2007, there has been an enormous uptick in dry eye diagnosis globally, but simultaneously a drought of practitioners who are able to diagnose and treat the disease. A virtual medical model lends itself to dry eye since it allows for a personal connection or relationship that only facilitates better care since discussions help doctors understand palliative needs.
Dealing with dry eye is much like parenting – you may prefer to occasionally substitute parenting with a glass of wine but your children won’t disappear. As such, for ocular care to move forward a number of unanticipated or seeming unnatural links must be curated. With these links we will be one step closer to better managing ocular health, and there needs to be more ‘connectors’ like Dr. Hauser for pushing the industry to more responsibly marry technology and ocular health.
Director, TFOS Global Ambassador Program