Timos Naskas, B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D, MPM, FAAPM
Senior Program Manager, Vision Science Academy
Vision Science Academy Exclusive
A global truth the scientific community has widely recognized is that the world, and consequently science, will not be the same after COVID-19. A debate currently exists where on one side the supporting argument is that the pandemic has changed the world as we know it. On the other side of the table, are those who support the idea that the pandemic merely accelerated several aspects of everyday personal and professional life. Within this blog the challenges of Optometry for the next day will be briefly discussed.
As already mentioned, the pandemic has merely accelerated and brought up changes in aspects of everyday lives, personal or professional, that would have been established sooner or later. There are ample examples to support this point of view. Just to mention a few, universities establishing online courses, big companies offer the ability for remote work, job advertising web sites focused on remote-only job offers, telemedicine and not to forget to mention, artificial intelligence (AI) and so much more to mention. The foundation for these changes has been the development of internet infrastructures such as 5G networks, and others which offer unprecedented opportunities.
Optometry could not possibly be an exception to such changes. The educational aspect of optometry poses a challenge since the first day of the pandemic. The nature of the profession is such that interaction of students with patients and clinical personnel is required early in their training. The pandemic interrupted these processes and during lockdown periods, only theoretical aspects of optometric science were taught online. On the other hand, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, several simulators for refractive and primary ocular examinations were developed. These tools, although extremely important, especially for universities that cannot
find patients/volunteers, lack the element of human (patient-clinician) interaction, which is of vital importance in our profession. Furthermore, although these technologies add to one’s clinical skills, are far from matching the challenges each and every patient brings with. Technological evolutions are rapid and the incorporation of AI in this aspect, might bring up interesting yet challenging opportunities. It should always be kept in mind though, that the human element of our profession will not be easily surpassed.
In-office adaptations include not only safety measures, but also the installing of devices which can be linked with the patients’ devices so as to monitor one’s ocular health status, to the measure that this is viable. This aspect is challenging both for the quality of the acquired data, as well as the compliance of those being monitored. Clinical life is no different to this, it is even more complex and challenging to manage. This is because clinics are busier than practices. As a consequence, healthcare systems can’t provide all patients with self-examination devices monitored through distance examinations. In consequence, the volume of those to be examined in a clinic, will be significantly reduced. This final aspect does not necessarily reflect a negative consequence of the pandemic because the quality of each examination can be significantly improved due to the increased potential time dedicated to each patient. Finally, one more positive consequence of the pandemic can be the further development of telemedicine. Several examination devices had been developed prior to the pandemic and significantly elaborated during the COVID-19 era. As a result, patients in locations with no prior access to eye-care settings can be examined from specialized professionals and when needed, transferred to where their doctors are based for further work-up.
In conclusion, the pandemic has influenced several professions and optometry is no exception to this. The professional boundaries between optometrists and ophthalmologists, apart from surgeries, have now become less clear and the two professions converge even more. This is extremely positive because the standards of optometry rise in an unprecedented speed. Optometric education and clinical life are about to change in a rapid manner and flexibility as well as adaptability are the key characteristics an optometrist should carry to meet the standards of the new professional world about to rise.
Timos graduated with a BSc in Optics and Optometry from the Technological Educational Institute of Western Greece. After that, he attended the MSc in Clinical Ophthalmology and Vision Research in Glasgow Caledonian University. Following completion of the MSc studies, Timos was awarded a scholarship from the macular society, to carry out a PhD research project in Queens University Belfast. His PhD assessed the structure-function relationships in age-related macular degeneration through the application of multimodal imaging techniques. Timos’s research interests also include health economics. In April 2021, he was awarded the Master Project Manager title as well as fellowship from the American Academy of Project Management