AOA scrutiny aims to hold device profiteers accountable for false claims

January 12, 2017
Safety, eye and vision health important when talking trendy, techy eyewear.

Not long ago the phrase 'get smart' only conjured images of an inept spy who couldn't work a shoe phone, yet now it's the mantra of a digital movement eyeing your patients' peepers while too often failing to factor in health and safety.

Proper vision and eye health is the top priority in the development of new optical and health care technology.

The 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), an annual electronics and technology tradeshow, concluded this past weekend in Las Vegas, continuing a trend of headline-generating technologies that put digital devices up-close-and-personal with patients' eyes, yet lack the needed focus on quality care or even a basic verification of product claims, according to a doctor of optometry monitoring the event for the AOA.

'Wearable' technology as a craze persists with this year's CES vendors exhibiting the latest in 3-D glasses, augmented and virtual reality, eye trackers and new technologies sauntering into the eye and vision screening realm. One such product even took home the CES 2017 Best of Innovations Award—a smartphone app and device called EyeQue that purports to provide an at-home "eye exam."

These new technologies on display at 2017 CES only reinforce that the epicenter of modern and future technological advancement is once again human sight and vision, says AOA consultant Andrew Morgenstern, O.D.

"However, many of these new technologies may play a role in damaging vision and the eye," Dr. Morgenstern warns. "It is important to remember that proper vision and eye health remains the top priority in development of new optical and health care technology."

Trendy tech falls short on health, safety

In other words, patients' eyes are prime real estate for emergent technology, but so often this technological fascination creates a spotlight that blinds innovators to very real eye and vision health needs. That's why the AOA continues to speak out against harmful apps and online "vision tests."These services not only lull patients into a false sense of security—that their eye health and vision needs are met—but also carry significant risk for delayed diagnosis of serious eye and general health considerations.

Comprehensive eye examinations provided by doctors of optometry remain the gold standard, and the only consistent and trustworthy method to detect vision and health issues that often are asymptomatic in their earliest and most treatable stages. Bold claims coming out of Las Vegas notwithstanding, online apps and trackers are falling short of offering most every element of a doctor-provided exam, and have significant potential for yielding inaccurate measurements due to limitations within the technology.

This assessment was very publicly validated in August 2016 when "Good Morning America" reviewed the online "vision test" known as Opternative. In the "GMA Investigates" segment, one volunteer's risk factor for glaucoma—elevated intraocular pressure—was completely missed by Opternative, yet easily detected during a routine eye examination. Other instances of the smartphone-based test's flaws and inaccuracies dot the nation as local media try their own hand, often reaching the same conclusions.

Andrea P. Thau, O.D., AOA president, noted in the "Good Morning America" piece that such an exam is analogous to patients sending pictures of their teeth for a filling in return.

"This is really foolhardy and really dangerous," she said. "It is taking a risk because you're doing one small fraction of the whole eye exam with a potential for missing things that can be very significant to your eye health and your systemic health."

But the AOA isn't the only health care organization to sound alarms over technology that's getting ahead of itself. The American Medical Association also voiced concerns over mobile apps and devices that fly under Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluations before general use, and just last month organized a coalition to evaluate such apps.

Educating patients about lofty claims

Excitement surrounding new, promising technology is no more palpable than it is during such highly publicized events as 2017 CES. Patients—or colleagues and staff—may turn to their trusted doctor of optometry with questions, and AOA offers a simple Q & A to succinctly and accurately answer.

"Whether false claims are being made at a Las Vegas tradeshow or on the morning news, AOA is the go-to authority on quality care for the media and the public," Dr. Morgenstern notes. "Together with state associations, we're also a force to be reckoned with when new products are poorly designed, inaccurately promoted or have the potential to threaten public health."

Read AOA's formal complaint to the FDA about Opternative.

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